‘F— yeah!’: Panthers on-ice Stanley Cup celebration one to remember

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers raised the Stanley Cup for the first time in their 30-year history on Monday night, defeating the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 in Game 7. They did so after being only the third team in NHL history to win the first three games of the best-of-7 Cup Final and be forced to the limit, and the second to hold on to win Game 7.

As is customary, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman invited Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov to be the first to lift the Cup.

Barkov, who’s played each of his 11 NHL seasons with the Panthers, is the seventh European-born captain, and first from Finland, to win and hoist the Stanley Cup.

After accepting the Cup, Barkov appeared antsy to begin his lap around the rink at Amerant Bank Arena, but had to pose for photos with Bettman first. After finally taking his twirl, Barkov handed the Cup off to veteran goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the 35-year-old a first-time Stanley Cup champion in his 14th NHL season.

Why was Bobrovsky next in line to get the Cup?

“He deserved it. He’s played a long time. He’s our best player,” Barkov explained on ESPN.

Bobrovsky was the first goalie to ever be the second player handed the Stanley Cup in the postgame celebration, per NHL.com.

Bobrovsky was 16-8 in this postseason, had a 2.32 goals-against average, two shutouts and .906 save percentage. He made 23 saves in Game 7, including on all nine shots he faced in a frenzied third period. He and Barkov were Florida’s top two contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP, though Oilers captain Connor McDavid won that award.

The next player to be handed the Stanley Cup was not a star, nor one who’s been on the team that long. Bobrovsky gave the Cup to Kyle Okposo, a fourth-line player at this stage of his career, in his 17th NHL season. It was the first Stanley Cup championship and likely final NHL game for the 36-year-old forward.

It says a lot about the makeup of these Panthers, that Okposo, a part-timer after being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in February, was the third player to hoist the Cup on Monday.

“It’s great. I didn’t need it third or anything, but for them to recognize me and how long I’ve been around is pretty special,” Okposo said. “I tried to add something to the group and I hope that I did that. I think I did. Just a really special group of guys and they were able to recognize kind of the career that I had. It’s pretty cool.”

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the veteran defenseman who arrived in South Florida last summer after his contract was bought out by the Vancouver Canucks, was next in line. Again, a nod to a 32-year-old veteran that just won his first Stanley Cup title.

Ekman-Larsson, the No. 6 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, finally got his vindication after languishing in the Arizona desert with the Coyotes for over a decade.

Related: NHL history of Game 7s in Stanley Cup Final

Panthers celebration included sweet, poignant and funny moments

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The next Panthers to lift the cup were (in order) Dmitry Kulikov, Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinahrt, and Sam Bennett, who “smiled for the first time in two years” according to coach Paul Maurice.

That was just one of many excellent quotes Maurice delivered Monday, and throughout the postseason.

“I’ve never hugged so many sweaty men in my entire life. I’m not sure I’m gonna do it again, but I’m going to do it tonight,” he joked.

He ended his celebratory comments on a sweeter tone, paying homage to his father.

“Hey dad, your name is going up with your heroes,” Maurice said, referring to NHL legends who have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup, like Jean Beliveau, one his father’s favorites.

Maurice was less poetic when handed the Stanley Cup prior to a TV interview.

“F— yeah!,” Maurice screamed as he lifted Lord Stanley’s chalice for the first time.

Maurice, who coached 1,848 NHL games before winning his first championship — which had been most in League history — was exultant and relieved all at the same time.

Matthew Tkachuk was joined on the ice by his whole family, including his brother, Ottawa Senators captain Brady Tkachuk, and his father Keith.

Tkachuk frequently mentioned his desire to win the championship for his dad, a long-time NHL star who never won the Cup, and shared a long and heartfelt hug with him on the ice following Game 7.

As emotions subside, a teary-eyed Panthers GM Bill Zito noted that he has just three days to prepare for the upcoming 2024 NHL Draft, which begins Friday,

The work is never done, but the Florida Panthers certainly reaped the fruits of their hard labor on Monday night.

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