Panthers Eastern Conference Championship Proving Hockey in Florida Works

Photo Credit: Joel Auerbach/NHLI via Getty Images

One day. That’s all that stands between the Florida Panthers and their second-ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Tomorrow, the Cats will embark on a journey their brothers to the northwest know all too well, one that will end in triumph or heartbreak.

It was 27 years ago that the Panthers made their first Cup Final appearance. They lost to the Colorado Avalanche in 1996, a few years after entering the league as an expansion team.

Since that lone appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, the Panthers have seen more top three draft picks than they have berths in the NHL’s championship game.

Whether it be Aaron Ekblad or Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers have spent years building a team around those two with an eye toward competing for a Stanley Cup. Now, they look to complete the mission against another expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights.

After years of watching their Florida brothers in Tampa Bay go deep in the postseason, the Panthers are proving that both Sunshine State hockey teams can win in the playoffs.

The proof lies in the numbers. Canada, which houses seven NHL teams, has seven Stanley Cup Final appearances and only one Cup (the Montreal Canadiens) since 1993. The state of Florida, with two teams, has the same number of appearances and three Cups in the past 30 years.

Yes, that’s a relatively small sample size, but one must remember Florida didn’t have NHL hockey teams until the Tampa Bay Lightning entered the league in 1992-93’. Canada, meanwhile, has had hockey since 1927 when the Canadiens and Toronto Arenas (renamed the Toronto Maple Leafs) started the original six.

Something else worth noting is that both Florida teams have combined to make four straight Stanley Cup Finals. The Lightning won the Cup in 2020 and 2021 before falling in six games to the Avalanche last season. This year, the Panthers dispatched the Boston Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Carolina Hurricanes on their way to their second-ever championship game appearance.

Can the Panthers capture their first Stanley Cup in 2023? While unknown, their second trip to the Cup Final after three straight by the Lightning proves once and for all that the state of Florida is a hockey hotbed.

Lauren Burg

Lauren Burg is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer for “Inside the Rink.” A lifelong Tampa Bay Area resident, she graduated from the University of South Florida’s world-renowned journalism program in December 2009. While in college, she discovered hockey and the Tampa Bay Lightning. She quickly became a passionate fan, attending many games over the years. She also experienced an All-Star game in 2018, numerous road games, and, most recently, the Bolts back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Since graduating college, she’s been working hard to combine her two loves, writing and hockey, hoping to one day make that her full-time career. In her free time, she enjoys attending sporting events (both home & road when possible), taking photos, and traveling.

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