The Florida Panthers haven’t been a powerhouse in the regular season for much of their history, yet when you review the 2023 Panthers NHL schedule for playoffs, they have had an incredible run that no one outside of South Beach expected or many betting experts NHL predictions believed would happen.
This article was intended for the next of the Florida Panthers games in their playoff run, but after the Panthers’ swept the favored Carolina Hurricanes out of the Eastern Conference Finals, we’ve changed the focus to a Panthers Stanley Cup Preview and exploring Florida’s unexpected trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 27 years.
The Florida Panthers’ 1996 Stanley Cup Finals Run
Before we move on to the Panthers Stanley Cup preview for 2023, we’re looking back at their first and only trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The 1995-1996 Florida Panthers were never favorites in the NHL Stanley Cup odds, finishing third in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference, with a three-point lead over the 5-8 seeds.
Much like the 2023 Panthers’, the 96 Panthers eliminated the Boston Bruins in the first round in five games while eliminating the favored first seed in the Eastern Conference – the Philadelphia Flyers – in six games.
Florida was the underdog in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, eliminating Jarmoir Jagr and the Pens in seven games.
However, the Panthers’ run of luck ended in the Stanley Cup Finals, where the Panthers were swept by the Patrick Roy-lead Colorado Avalanche, who won game four in overtime.
1995-96: The Year of the Rat
When watching a Florida Panthers playoff game, you’ll see rats and lots of them.
The Panthers’ rat tradition dates back to the magical 1995-1996 season and the season’s first game. Then-captain Scott Mellanby eliminated a rat in the dressing room with a hockey stick, scoring two goals in the game, which goalie John Vasbiesbrouck joked “he scored a rat-trick.”
The next night a fan threw a plastic rat on the ice. Game after game, the number of rats hitting the ice grew, and an ice hockey tradition was born in the sand and sun of South Florida.
Trading Places: the Tkachuk/Huberdeau Trade
The 2021-2022 Florida Panthers won the Presidents’ Trophy as the best regular season team in the NHL standings. After eliminating the Washington Capitals in round one, the Cats were swept by Tampa Bay in round two.
One transaction doesn’t build a Stanley Cup winner, but one transaction can be the one to push a team over the top. The Panthers are getting key contributions from players who underachieved elsewhere like Sam Reinhart and home-grown draft picks like Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad.
However, it was one trade and swapping superstars with the Calgary Flames that gave the 2022-23 Florida Panthers the final piece of the puzzle.
Having acquired Sam Bennett from the Flames previously, the Florida Panthers were one of two teams in the running for Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary’s franchise cornerstone who wanted out of Alberta.
The Panthers acquired Tkachuk in a blockbuster trade, sending career Cats Mackenzie Weegar, Jonathan Huberdeau, and a first-round pick to Calgary and immediately signing Tkachuk to an eight-year deal.
Tkachuk leads the Panthers in NHL player stats and scored three game-winning goals in the Eastern Conference Finals, creating the now famous “Let’s go home” walk-off celly. Tkachuk’s (+300) playoff performances and the reemergence of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (+225) – the front runners for the Conn Smythe Trophy – are why the Florida Panthers are playing for their first Stanley Cup in 27 years.
The 2023 Florida Panthers: Stanley Cup Favorites?
Much like the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Finals appearance 27 years ago, the Florida Panthers are not the favorite heading into the Finals as their NHL team stats state.
- However, the Florida Panthers (+110) should be the Stanley Cup favorite and are the favorite, according to our Panthers Stanley Cup Preview, despite the Vegas Golden Knights (-110) having slightly better NHL odds.