Florida Panthers Following Lightning’s Path to Cup

If history is destined to repeat itself, then the 2022-23 Florida Panthers should follow the same path to win the Stanley Cup as the Tampa Bay Lightning did in 2020.

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The first thing in this scenario is to have the best season in franchise history and win the Presidents’ Trophy. Secondly, have the absolute worst playoff series in team history and not come close to winning a championship. Thirdly, come back the next season, play well enough to earn a playoff spot, and then bulldoze your way to a Stanley Cup.

History of Two Presidents’ Trophy Seasons

To start the 2018-19 season, the Lightning won seven of their first 10 games. They also had a stretch where they went 15-1 and another 10-game winning streak to start the new year. Their home record was 32-7-2 and they led the league in goals. They ended the season with a goal differential of plus-103. Tampa’s power play scored at a rate of 28.1 percent, which was the highest in NHL history (for an 82-game season) and they dominated on the power play on the road, scoring at an incredible 33 percent, which ranked the highest in NHL history since the stat was tracked in 1977.

Nikita Kucherov cemented his superstar status with one of the best seasons in recent memory. He tallied 128 points in 2018-19 and won the Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophies and the Ted Lindsay Award; he was, by far, the league’s MVP that season.

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For the 2021-22 season, it appeared that Florida would remain the new hockey mecca of North America when the Panthers started the season 8-0-0 on their way to winning 58 games for 122 points and walking away with the 2022 Presidents’ Trophy.

Early in the regular season, the Panthers endured controversy as their head coach Joel Quenneville was forced to resign and they hired Andrew Brunette to replace him. They didn’t miss a beat. They had the second-best power play in the league and were in the top ten on the penalty kill. Aleksander Barkov led the team with 88 points and ended the season plus-36.

Postseason Disappointments

The sixth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets sent the Lightning home after sweeping them in the first round. The 2018-19 Presidents’ Trophy winner was eliminated after four games. Kucherov was so frustrated that he tripped defenseman Markus Nutivaara in the final minutes of a 5-1 loss in Game 2 and was suspended the following game. In three games, he contributed two assists. He wasn’t the only player who couldn’t seem to get anything past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as they were outscored 19-8.

Tampa’s elimination was the first time a Presidents’ Trophy winner was swept by an eighth seed.

John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times described it as “the disappointment that all others are measured against” (from The Tampa Bay Times. ‘Lightning becomes the disappointment all others will be measured against.’ 4/16/2019).

However, general manager (GM) Julien BriseBois didn’t fire all the coaches, nor did he trade exceptional players. He retained the Presidents’ Trophy team to make another run at the Cup. Next time, history would not repeat itself.

Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei Vasilevskiy Columbus Blue Jackets Nick Foligno
The Tampa Bay Lightning would bounce back after their historic postseason defeat by the sixth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2018-19 Playoffs (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Further down state, the Panthers kept their 2021-22 Presidents’ Trophy season going when they defeated the Washington Capitals in six games to advance to the second round, the first time since 1996. They then faced their in-state rival in the second-round series and were swept by the Lightning. They managed only three goals in four games. It was an obviously disappointing end to a stellar season.

Related: 5 Takeaways From the Florida Panthers’ 2021-22 Season

In response to their loss, the Panthers parted ways with Brunette, who was a Jack Adams Award finalist. During the offseason, they traded Jonathan Huberdeau, who scored 115 points in 80 regular season games, and MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Matthew Tkachuk.

Stanley Cup Redemption

After enduring a long, brutal offseason, the Lightning started the 2019-20 season with a record of 5-5. The team looked like they were skating in mud and had no zip. Then, on Dec. 23, 2019, they started a 10-game winning streak before the NHL shut down the league due to COVID-19 restrictions. When they resumed in the bubble at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, they defeated the Blue Jackets in a five-overtime game and eventually faced the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Lightning overcame one of the worst postseason collapses in NHL history to claim the Cup in a 4-2 series win against the Stars.

The Panthers squeaked into the playoffs this season, securing the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. No one really expected them to advance past the Boston Bruins, the 2022-23 Presidents’ Trophy winners. It took seven games, but the Panthers won. They then defeated a hyped-up Toronto Maple Leafs squad in seven games.

Sergei Bobrovsky Florida Panthers
Sergei Bobrovsky, of the Florida Panthers, stops Maple Leafs’ captain John Tavares (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Now, if the Panthers get past the Carolina Hurricanes and represent the Eastern Conference in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final – and actually win it, they would follow the same path as the Lightning took when winning their championship after such a disappointing postseason the previous year.

The Colorado Avalanche also won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2020-21 and lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Vegas Golden Knights. They too came back the following season to win the Stanley Cup. If this trend continues and the Panthers also win the Cup, Bruins fans should be hopeful for next season.