Florida Panthers avoid collapse, win first Stanley Cup

Florida Panthers forward Sam Reinhart (13) scored the go-ahead goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday in Sunrise, Fla. File Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
Florida Panthers forward Sam Reinhart (13) scored the go-ahead goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday in Sunrise, Fla. File Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

June 24 (UPI) -- Diving defenders covered the ice, while Sergei Bobrovsky's glued glove and swift stick spoiled shots, denying an Edmonton Oilers rally to lead the Florida Panthers to their first Stanley Cup on Monday in Sunrise, Fla.

"It's not a dream anymore," Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk said on the ABC broadcast. "It's not a dream. It's reality. I can't believe it."


The 2-1 victory at Amerant Bank Arena helped the Panthers, who lost last year's Stanley Cup Final, complete their journey of redemption. The gritty win also enabled them to avoid a historic collapse after they started the series with three-consecutive wins, but dropped the next three.

"We were thinking we have to overcome that to become a true champion," Bobrovsky said. "We had to overcome the adversity."

Instead of saddling the daunting designation of being just the second NHL team in 82 years to surrender a 3-0 lead and lose the Cup, the Panthers followed the final horn by mobbing Bobrovsky in a hectic huddle of happiness for the first hockey crown in the 30-year history of their franchise.


"It was perfect, Florida Panther fashion," Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. "Nothing is easy. Nothing is easy for us. They did everything they could to win."

Bobrovsky made 23 saves. Sam Reinhart scored the go-ahead goal for the Panthers. Fellow forward Carter Verhaeghe registered a goal and assist in the NHL finale.

An aggressive energy played a key role for the Panthers early on, with defenders smashing their Oilers counterparts into the boards and diffusing several attacks.

That dangerous intensity also helped the Panthers keep the puck in their offensive zone. They took advantage of the extra possessions with Verhaeghe's goal 4:27 into Game 7.

Verhaeghe started that play by skating behind the net, before finding Evan Rodrigues near the left circle. Rodriguez then turned and ripped a shot toward the goal. Verhaeghe, who had his back to the net, lifted his stick, knocked down the puck and deflected it through goalie Stuart Skinner's legs for first blood.

But that lead was short-lived, as Mattias Janmark tied the score just 2:18 later with a backhanded wrist shot on an Oilers breakaway.


Panthers and Oilers forwards fired numerous shots in excess of 90 mph on both nets, but neither team netted a goal for the remainder of the first period.

Reinhart then put the Panthers ahead for good with a wicked wrist shot 15:11 into the second. Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov triggered the score by scraping an Oilers attempt away from the Panthers goal. That denial deflected out to Verhaeghe, who carried the puck toward the neutral zone. Verhaeghe then found Reinhart on the right side.

The Panthers veteran flew up the ice before crossing into Oilers territory. He then faked to his left before lacing a 78-mph shot past Skinner's glove for a 2-1 lead.

The Panthers carried that edge into the third period. Star forward Connor McDavid and the Oilers proceeded to desperately deke and unleash endless assaults on the Panthers' defense, but Bobrovsky and his teammates stood strong, diving on the ice and throwing their sticks in the way to prevent a game-tying score.

The Oilers outshot the Panthers 24-21, but McDavid totaled just two shot attempts. Despite his lack of production in the finale, McDavid was sensational throughout the playoffs and was rewarded Monday with the Conn Smythe Trophy for those efforts.


The Oilers' forward broke Wayne Gretzky's playoff assist record and totaled 34 helpers and eight goals this postseason. The Panthers held a 30-19 advantage in hits and edges of 17-13 in blocked shots and 12-7 in takeaways to clinch Game 7.

"We just came up a little short to a team that is very deserving," Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said.

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