Florida Panthers sweep Hurricanes advancing to Stanley Cup

Florida Panthers Stanley Cup

Photo by JC Ruiz

Sunrise, FL – It’s time to party like it’s 1996, the Florida Panthers scored with 4.3 seconds left in regulation, punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup. Aleksander Barkov, returning from a lower-body injury in game three, passed the puck behind the net to a lurking Matthew Tkachuk, who swung around in front of Frederik Andersen, finding an opening for the game-winning power-play goal. With just 3:22 remaining in the contest, Jesper Fast tied it up for the Hurricanes. However, the Cats were given a golden opportunity with 57 seconds left when Jordan Staal was called for tripping.

Things seemed to be trending toward overtime when Florida broke through the league’s best penalty-kill unit for the second time Wednesday night, completing the 4-3 sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes. It was Sasha’s second assist (Sam Reinhart was also credited) of the evening helping his team make it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 27 years. Los Gatos were outshot 39-24 but were a perfect four-for-four in penalty killing. Half of their goals came on the power play, as the Panthers are the sixth-best in the NHL. Florida set the tone early with Anthony Duclair scoring 41 seconds after the opening faceoff. The Ice Cats are now 8-0 when scoring first this postseason.

First Period

The Panthers struck first with a lightning goal from Duclair, fired past the traffic and into the net for the crucial go-ahead score. Duclair scored the third-fastest goal from the start of a contest in franchise playoff history. Only Stephen Weiss (0:23 in Game 2 of 2012 CQF) and Jody Hull (0:30 in Game 3 of 1996 CQF) were faster. It’s the seventh fastest from the start of the potential clinching game in the round before the final. Defensively, the Panthers imposed their will early on with Florida’s Sam Bennett landing a heavy hit to Jaccob Slavin, sending the defenseman to the locker room. 

Los Gatos struck again on the power play with 9:37 remaining thanks to Tkachuk corraling a deflection, slipping it past Andersen. Carolina got one back when Paul Stastny scored with 6:57 left in the first period. Bennett shot a bullet in the waning seconds but it deflected harmlessly off Andersen’s glove.

Second Period

Carter Verhaeghe went one on one with Andersen but came up empty early in the second. However, the last vestiges of Florida’s two-goal lead evaporated when Teuvo Teravainen managed the equalizer with 17:09 left. The first half of the period was a fairly even back-and-forth with both sides missing on several scoring opportunities.

Then, the trio of Ryan Lomberg, Colin White, and Eric Staal concocted an impressive passing exchange to make it 3-2 Florida. Lomberg fought to retake possession, racing his way toward the net and handing it off to Staal who turned around flipping it to White in front of the goalie. Colin fooled Andersen into forming a wall redirecting it back to Lomberg past the goaltender for his first score of the postseason. Neither team could find the net for the rest of the second. 

Third Period

Radko Gudas was called for high sticking leading to a big power play opportunity for the Hurricanes. Sergei Bobrovsky stifled a determined Carolina attack, stopping at least two potentially devastating shots. Andersen matched Bob’s bulwark stopping Bennett’s quick wrist shot near the halfway point of the period, preventing the dagger to their playoff hopes. Time gradually ticked away with fans counting down those agonizing minutes as the Ice Cats crept closer and closer to their destiny. However, with just 3:22 remaining in the game, the Hurricanes tied it up 3-3.

Florida’s postseason hopes were put on pause. Both teams skated furiously looking for an opening to land the triumphant blow. For a time, it appeared the two sides were going to settle things in OT until the Staal penalty. Like something out of a movie, the Panthers pulled off an 11th-hour goal. The last nail in Carolina’s coffin, hammered in by Tkachuk.


Well, I think I just witnessed one of the greatest moments in South Florida sports history, certainly in Panthers franchise history. If this doesn’t make you even slightly believe this is a team of destiny, I don’t know what will. I was nine years old when the Florida Panthers participated in their first Stanley Cup. This was the era of dial-up internet, Blockbuster, the Nintendo 64, the Spice Girls, MTV, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Michael Jordan, and the legendary Chicago Bulls. Heck, of the 36 players currently on the roster, 21 of them were not even born.  My favorite player on that team was none other than the Beezer, John Vanbiesbrouck. Coming from a Hispanic family where baseball is king, we didn’t really start following hockey until the Panthers made it to the playoffs that year.

As a child learning about sports, I was hooked. The Florida Panthers’ 1996 Stanley Cup playoff run placed hockey in my existence and has been faithfully there ever since. They use to play in the Miami Arena during this time too. Shame that they don’t anymore. When the Colorado Avalanche swept them I was heartbroken. The hate for that team lingered for years, actually. Fast forwarding to now, I was fortunate to see one of the greatest sporting moments: A wildcard team heading to the Wor– Stanley Cup Finals. These Ice Cats not only beat the Boston Bruins, the record-setting Presidents’ Trophy winners but also the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s the #1, #2, and #4 records of the Eastern Conference. Wow. The best part of all this is that it’s not over yet.

Photo | JC Ruiz

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