Panthers latest in salary cap era with consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers are back in the Stanley Cup Final, just 12 months removed from a heartbreaking loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 on June 13. As the hockey world prepares to watch the Panthers try for the second straight season to capture their first Stanley Cup, it should be noted that they are only the fourth franchise in the salary cap era, which began in 2005, to make consecutive appearances in the Final.

Who are those three other teams, and what were the outcomes of those series?

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Detroit Red Wings (2008, 2009)

The Detroit Red Wings were the best team in the NHL in 2007-08, capturing the Presidents’ Trophy with 115 points. They were 12-4 in the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, defeating the Nashville Predators (4-2), Colorado Avalanche (4-0), and Dallas Stars (4-2).

They opened the Stanley Cup Final with back-to-back shutouts against the Pittsburgh Penguins but lost Game 3 on the road before grabbing a stranglehold (3-1) in the series with a 2-1 win in Game 4. The Penguins didn’t go quietly, extending Game 5 to three overtimes to win 4-3. They forced Game 6 back at the Mellon Arena, where Detroit held on for a 3-2 victory and hoisted the Stanley Cup.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins
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The following season, the Red Wings had the third-best point total (112) in the NHL, sweeping the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. Next, they escaped the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of the second round before easily defeating the Chicago Blackhawks in five games to set up a rematch with the Penguins in the Cup Final.

This time, the teams split the first four games, each winning twice on home ice, before Detroit earned a 5-0 win in Game 5 for a 3-2 lead in the series. It would be the last victory of the season for the Red Wings, who lost Games 6 and 7 by identical 2-1 scores.

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Pittsburgh Penguins (2008, 2009)

NHL: Stanley Cup Finals-Pittsburgh Penguins at Detroit Red Wings
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In 2007-08, the Penguins collected 102 points for the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference and tied for the fifth-best record in the NHL. After four seasons outside of the playoffs, this season marked the second straight year they were made the postseason. Pittsburgh swept the Ottawa Senators to begin their trek to the Final before rolling through the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers in back-to-back five-game series.

Their appearance in the Stanley Cup Final marked the first time in 16 years they reached the final round, after winning consecutive championships in 1991 and 1992. Losing Game 6 to the Red Wings at Mellon Arena was the first time a visitor celebrated a championship on their home ice since the Penguins had been undefeated in the Final (2-0) until then.

Determined to finish what they started in 2008, Pittsburgh finished the next season with 99 points, tied for second with their first-round opponents, the Flyers, in the Atlantic Division, behind the New Jersey Devils. The Penguins didn’t have it as easy this time, defeating Philadelphia in six games before Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin met for the first time in postseason play in the second round, a seven-game series that the Penguins won.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Carolina Hurricanes were no match getting swept. Pittsburgh then clinched its third Stanley Cup title on June 12, 2009, with a 2-1 win at Joe Louis Arena over the Red Wings.

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Tampa Bay Lightning (2020, 2021, 2022)

The Tampa Bay Lightning became only the fourth franchise behind the Edmonton Oilers (twice), Penguins (twice), and Red Wings to win consecutive Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980 to 1984, with their championships in 2020 and 2021.

Once the NHL returned to play during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with games played in the bubble at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the Lightning qualified for the playoffs, drawing the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. They avenged a previous postseason loss in five games and eliminated the Boston Bruins in five games before sending the scrappy Islanders home in six games. After relocating to Rogers Place bubble in Edmonton, AB, for the Stanley Cup Final, Tampa Bay won their second title in six games with a shutout in Game 6.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning
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In the following season, with all the divisions realigned to cut down on travel during the pandemic, the Lightning moved over to the Central Division for a season and finished behind the Hurricanes and Panthers. During the traditional playoff format, which didn’t include Round Robin games, they defeated the Panthers in six games and Hurricanes in six. They drew the Islanders in the semifinals for the second consecutive campaign, once again defeating them, this time in five games.

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Considering the unusual divisional layout, the Lighting played the Montreal Canadiens in the Cup Final and almost swept them, but Montreal won Game 4 in overtime at home. The loss allowed the Lightning to clinch the championship on home ice, which they did, 1-0, in Game 5.

As two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, the Lightning were once again third in the division in 2021-22, lining up with the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one. After winning a thrilling seven-game series, they swept the Panthers in round two before defeating the other New York team, the Rangers, in six games to become the first team since the 1983-1985 Oilers to appear in the Stanley Cup Final three consecutive seasons.

However, their reign was ended by the Colorado Avalanche, who built up 2-0 and 3-1 series leads and captured their third Stanley Cup title on Tampa Bay’s home ice on June 26, 2022.

Florida Panthers (2023, 2024)

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers sneaked into the 2023 playoffs on the last day of the regular season and had the lowest point total (92) of all 16 teams. In a shocking first-round upset, they defeated the Boston Bruins in Game 7 in overtime after the Bruins had won 65 games and collected 135 points, both NHL records.

From there, they only lost one more game en route to the Stanley Cup Final, eliminating the Maple Leafs in five games and sweeping the Hurricanes. Despite riding a wave of momentum into the Final, Florida only won Game 3 in overtime to avoid being swept by the Golden Knights, who won their first championship in five games.

This season, the Panthers won the Atlantic Division and had the third-best point total in the Eastern Conference while securing the fifth-best mark in the NHL. In the opening round, they earned their first postseason series win against the Lightning (five games) before defeating the Bruins for the second consecutive spring, achieving it in fewer games (six). Then, in the Eastern Conference Final, they edged the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Rangers, in six games to draw the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final.

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