Panthers Stay Focused, Not Looking Ahead

Panthers Oilers

The Florida Panthers came into training camp this year with the intention of playing for a Stanley Cup. It wasn’t so much an entitlement or expectation, it was more of a goal.

But it was the only goal.

On Thursday night, the Panthers defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 4-3, to go up 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final. As a franchise that dates back to 1993, this is, quite literally, the closest they’ve been to The Cup. They were swept out of the Miami Arena in 1996 to the Colorado Avalanche in their first appearance in the final, and they lost in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights last year.

You can’t blame the fans or the media for thinking this series is all but wrapped up. Only four teams – the 2014 Los Angeles Kings being the most recent – have come back from a 3-0 series deficit in the postseason. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team to do it in the Stanley Cup Final.

But the Panthers won’t allow themselves to look ahead.

Obviously, it’s there for us,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said after Thursday’s win. “But you don’t think about it. You can’t think about it. All you have to do is just take one moment at a time.”

Panthers center Sam Bennett channeled his inner Kobe Bryant after Thursday’s win when asked about being one win away from The Cup.

“The job’s not finished,” Bennett said. “So we’re not really thinking about that. Our whole mindset right now is recovering and getting prepared for the next game. I don’t think anyone can really look ahead. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

A team hasn’t completed a sweep in the Cup Final since the Detroit Red Wings defeated the Washington Capitals in 1998.

The Panthers last sweep was in the 2023 Eastern Conference finals against the Carolina Hurricanes. This year, the Cats are 3-2 in close-out games.

Saturday’s potential-clinching game will be Florida’s 103rd of the season if you combine the regular season and postseason. Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said the key is to keep everything consistent to how they’ve operated all year.

“You have to have a plan, and that plan can’t come in yesterday,” Maurice said Thursday night. “You have to be very careful walking into the room, as a coach, with something they haven’t heard before at this time of the year. So we would have talked about our recovery postgame that they’ve done, not just in the playoffs, in the regular season, we had a plan.”

The Panthers had an off day on Friday. Puck drop on Saturday is at 8 pm.

“Now I’m looking forward to going to bed,” Maurice said. “So I’m going to keep my focus on that. Enjoy the heck out of it. If I’m fortunate enough to wake up I gotta plan for tomorrow. And then I’m not looking anywhere past that.”

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