The Florida Panthers just won their third playoff series in two seasons, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs by a series score of 4-1. For the first time since 1996, the Cats are back in the Eastern Conference Final. They will be taking on their former Southeast Division rival, the Carolina Hurricanes, who will be looking to win their second Stanley Cup in franchise history.
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The team as a whole fought hard to get to this point by upsetting the number one and number two teams in the Atlantic Division. One piece that made it possible was forward Anthony Duclair. After returning from an Achilles injury that he suffered during the offseason, he managed to find his game in the playoffs, something he could not do in his first two postseason appearances. As a result, he could be a factor in this series.
Duclair’s Playoff Problems in the Past
Duclair finally got a taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2021 against the Cats’ instate rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, through six games, he registered zero points. In his second appearance, he did slightly better. He scored a goal and assisted on two others through eight games played.
Last postseason, then-head coach Andrew Brunette decided to scratch him in Game 6 against the Washington Capitals in the first round and Game 4 against the Bolts in the second round. His first two playoff appearances were rough. Of course, getting a first shot at the postseason does not always translate to immediate success, regardless of how many seasons you’ve played.
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The start of this postseason for Duclair felt no different. In his first three games against the Boston Bruins, he registered zero points. As a result of his performance, he was scratched in Game 4 against the boys from Beantown, this time by head coach Paul Maurice. But something clicked shortly after as his cut from the lineup that night woke up a sleeping giant within the 27-year-old.
The “Duke” Finds His Game
After returning to the lineup in Game 5 against the Bruins, he scored the opening goal that led them to a 4-3 overtime victory to force the series to a Game 6. Since then, he’s been on an absolute tear. He has two goals and four assists in his last seven playoff games. This includes a beautiful breakaway goal in Game 3 against the Maple Leafs.
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Duclair’s speed and ability to drive the play have been essential to keeping the foot on the gas pedal for the Panthers this postseason. He will look to keep his hot streak going against the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.
Can Duclair Keep It Going?
If the Panthers want a shot at the Cup, Duclair and the team around him cannot slow down in the next round. Since arriving in South Florida in 2020, he’s been a key piece of the lineup. For a team that just barely got in, and had a slow start to their regular season, they’re doing damage to some of the heavy hitters in the NHL.
As a result of their heavy hitting, they are now just four wins away from getting back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the “Year of the Rat” back in 1996. If they can do that, the cleanup crew may just have their hands full with cleaning up the ice full of rubber rats from fans.