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HomeSportsBig angry panthers. What makes Florida's second straight finals special?

Big angry panthers. What makes Florida’s second straight finals special?

Date: July 18, 2024 Time: 04:14:43

It is very difficult to defend the title in the NHL: going through two playoffs in a row without serious mistakes is almost impossible in today’s league. But it turns out that it is even more difficult to return to the final after a defeat. For many teams that lost in the main series of the season, it turned out to be the peak of the assembled core (San Jose 2016, Nashville 2017). For some, this was the last chance in such a lineup (“New Jersey”-2012), while others, after the final, simply fell apart in the new season (“Montreal”-2021).

Last year, Florida made it to the finals somewhat of a miracle. The team, which won the regular season in 2022 and made the biggest trade of the offseason, spent half of last season plagued by incomprehensible difficulties and could not adapt to Paul Maurice’s system. With the score 1-3 in the first round series against Boston, in the last seconds of game five Brad Marchand tied with Sergei Bobrovsky and was able to close the first round alone, but our goalkeeper stopped the shot. And then you saw it all with your own eyes: the victory in extra time and the miraculous salvation in the seventh game of the first round began a fabulous run to the final.

Last year’s Florida looked like a three- or four-person team and completely fell apart in the finals under the blows of a deeper and more organized Vegas. The current “Panthers” are a team where there are three strong links, each of which represents a threat, where there is no obvious bias towards one main link. On the way to the final, three very different teams were strangled, but neither Tampa, which relied on the power of superstars, nor the highly organized Boston, nor the Rangers, who relied on Shesterkin and the “structure”, could make something with Florida.

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Overall, a big jump from Florida has been expected for a long time, probably since they won the division in 2016. However, the impending resignation of Gerard Galán and a change in management led to a couple of seasons of chaos. Around the Covid season, the Panthers became an interesting team, but with a strong bias toward offense. The appointment of Joel Quenneville had the clear objective of creating a team that played much more with the puck than with its body: champion Chicago was one of the least hit teams in the league. The substitution of Quenneville for Andrew Morena did not change the vector and in the end the team received 0-4 from Tampa.

Matthew Tkachuk

Photo: Jeff Roberson/AP/TASS

In this sense, the Huberdeau-Tkachuk trade became the most important for the team’s philosophy: one of the league’s best playmakers, but clean ice player, was replaced by one of the league’s main bastards. A provocateur, a bully, a ball of rage – all this applies to Tkachuk, only he also knows how to play hockey perfectly. At the same time, the Panthers were able to restart the careers of two highly recruited Sams, Rinehart and Bennett. Both became completely sour on their former teams, but one became the nickel-scoring king in Florida and the second became an evil powerhouse.

Admittedly, the Panthers’ defense looked much paler than their offense; In the short term, this was compounded by the departure of Mackenzie Weegar to Calgary, who could not be immediately replaced. As a result, 36-year-old Marc Staal, Anaheim waiver pick Josh Makhura, and another “reject,” Casey Fitzgerald, played for Florida in the finals. This was nothing like a champion’s defense, especially compared to the backdrop of the Las Vegas defense, which not only resembled the Kremlin regiment in size, but also efficiently dispersed the positional attacks of the “gentlemen”.

The Panthers coaches responded to this with a shocking defensive buy: Half of the team’s current defensive corps was assembled on the NSA market. The leaders remained in their positions, but now they have a decent environment. We already wrote about Dmitry Kulikov, but he plays in the same pair as Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Swede, who could no longer cope with the $8 million contract and the role of leader of the defense, plays excellently on the third pair and for four times less money. They also signed local Finn Niko Mikkola, all of which gave Florida the right balance between defense and offense.

We remind you of Kulikov’s story:

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Well, “Florida”, after a difficult first season, found its game, and it was a hockey based on pressure, suffocating the opponent and the maximum amount of force. The Panthers lead the season in hits, with 12 players on the team recording more than 100 hits this season. At the same time, the defensive skills of most players allow them to play responsibly in defense and not lose duels, and here it is worth noting not only the new owner of Selke, Alexander Barkov, but also his younger successor, Anton Lundell, and he already mentioned Tkachuk, Bennett and Rinehart, and one of the league’s main provocateurs, Nick Cousins. I could go on and on, there are almost no pure ice players on this team.

“Florida’s game is similar to an NFL team that primarily just runs the ball. It’s not very pretty, they don’t destroy opponents with technique, but they wear you down anywhere on the ice, they don’t stop. It seems to me that Panarin didn’t win a single fight in the Eastern finals; compare him to Barkov, who leads the team and wins more controversial goals. It may seem like an old cliché, but it’s very simple: If you win contested goals, you win the game,” said former Colorado defenseman Colby Cohen.

Pablo Mauricio

Photo: Gene J. Puskar/AP/TASS

But it’s clear that the Panthers aren’t just a team of push-and-run idiots, otherwise they would have been eliminated in the first round. Maurice lets his offensive players shine in the opponent’s area and it is interesting to think about how the coach has changed in just two years. In Winnipeg, Maurice, who has been in the league since 1996, looked like a man who was already deeply fed up with everything, and the Jets survived only because of the goalie. Here, the veteran coach turned his team into something similar to those teams that won championships when Maurice began his career on the bench.

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An NHL team hadn’t lost back-to-back Finals since Boston in the late ’70s, but the Bears then lost to Scotty Bowman’s great Montreal dynasty. Here the rival will not be so difficult. Yes, Edmonton has McDavid and most of them, but the Panthers have already locked up a lot of stars and have almost multiplied the Rangers superteam by zero. The possible final with Dallas seems more interesting due to the depth of the “stars”, but they have their own weaknesses, which Edmonton is now showing.

“We’re a lot healthier than last season,” said Aaron Ekblad, who played in last year’s playoffs with a broken leg and two dislocations. “We’ve learned to stay composed in important moments; we lacked that last year.” Regardless of the future opponent, Florida enters the final as a favorite.

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Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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