FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Panthers are in the Stanley Cup Final for the third time. The first two, well, didn’t go as planned.

Swept by Colorado in 1996. Beaten in five games by Vegas last year.

This trip feels different. The Panthers are a different team than they were a year ago; certainly healthier, certainly better for the experience of getting to the final and falling short. They have had to beat three extremely good teams to get here — a state rival in Tampa Bay, a real contender in Boston, a Presidents’ Trophy winner in the New York Rangers.

Here’s why the Panthers will beat the Edmonton Oilers and win the Stanley Cup:


The Oilers are loaded up front. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have combined to win four of the last seven MVP awards (three by McDavid), and those two players have more points than any other player since McDavid entered the league.

But the edge Florida has here is depth. There are 14 forwards in this Cup final with more than 45 points this season, including playoffs. The Panthers have eight of them. The Oilers lost 24 of the 35 games this season when neither McDavid nor Draisaitl has scored a goal. Florida seems to have more balance, meaning it’s not all on Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov or Sam Reinhart to carry the load.

And the Panthers would argue this with anyone: Barkov has been the best two-way player in these playoffs.


Gustav Forsling got an eight-year, $46 million extension this season. It looks like an absolute steal. The Panthers believe he’s the best defenseman in the league in a corps that already had Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour, plus added depth in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Dmitry Kulikov.

Florida might be thought of as a high-octane team. But the reality is, the Panthers have given up a league-low 2.39 goals per game this season. Plus, the Panthers know how to slam the door: They’re an NHL-best 42-0-3 when leading after two periods this season, including playoffs.


There may not be a more beloved active athlete in South Florida at this very moment than Sergei Bobrovsky, who has outdueled three incredible goalies to get back to the Cup final.

Bob — he’s just Bob at this time of year — led Florida past Andrei Vasilevskiy and Tampa Bay in Round 1, Jeremy Swayman and Boston in Round 2, and Igor Shesterkin and the New York Rangers in Round 3.

Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner has been great, for certain. But Bob has been a wall, with no signs of slowing down.


Let’s put Paul Maurice’s work in his two Florida seasons into perspective. He has won 25 playoff games with the Panthers. That matches the total of all other Panthers coaches in the first 28 seasons of franchise history — combined.

Maurice has waited forever for his first Cup. The Panthers weren’t healthy enough by the final round to give him a real shot last year. This team is determined to get his name etched on the greatest chalice in sports.


Playoff games, by nature, are close contests. The attention to detail is off the charts, the buy-in for the tough moments — blocking shots, digging pucks out of corners, delivering the right hit at the right time — is ramped up well beyond regular-season levels.

Florida is 17-5 in one-goal games the last two postseasons, the best winning percentage in the NHL in that span. There will be uncomfortable moments in this series, but the Panthers seem very comfortable when games are super tight.

The Pick

The Panthers are slight favorites, according to BetMGM Sportsbook, and why not? South Florida has seen the Marlins win it all twice, the Dolphins win it all twice and the Heat win it all three times. Welcome to the party, Stanley. Panthers in 7.


AP NHL playoffs: and