Just a few short weeks ago, the sports world was preparing for the Florida Panthers to become the answer to the question, "who did the Boston Bruins beat in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs?" The Bruins were coming off a record-breaking regular season where they set a new record for wins (65) and points (135). The Panthers were the second wildcard team, with 42 wins and 92 points. But, the Panthers prevailed, erasing a 3-1 series lead built by the Bruins to win in overtime in Game 7.
They became unstoppable in the second round, dismantling the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1. That set up a Conference Finals matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Panthers had only ever made the Stanley Cup Finals once, back in 1996, during their third season of existence. 2023 marked just the eighth playoff appearance for the Panthers since that run. However, once again, the Panthers dominated. They jumped out to a 3-0 series lead over the 113-point regular season Hurricanes. That set up a do-or-die Game 4 in Florida.
Panthers Complete Sweep
The Panthers took the lead just 41 seconds into the first period as Anthony Duclair grabbed his own missed shot and put it into the back of the Hurricanes' net during a relentless Panthers offensive barrage. A little under 10 minutes later, Matthew Tkachuk netted his eighth goal of the playoffs to put the Panthers up by two. However, the Hurricanes would keep the deficit at one after Paul Statsny was able to put one past Sergei Bobrovsky just after the 13-minute mark.
Moving into the second period, the Hurricanes were able to tie things up as Teuvo Teravainen grabbed his first goal of the playoffs a little before the three-minute mark. However, the Panthers remained relentless and retook the lead a little before 10 minutes through Ryan Lomberg's first goal of the playoffs. The 3-2 lead remained for a long stretch of the third period until, with just under three-and-a-half to play, Jesper Fast slotted a goal home to tie it up. All Carolina had to do was find another goal or play defense until overtime. But it wasn't to be. Like they had done against the Bruins, the Panthers found a last-gasp goal to steal the win.
The Panthers will face the Dallas Stars or Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Golden Knights currently hold a 3-0 series lead.