SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers returned home this week after losing in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.
It was an injury-riddled Stanley Cup Final, but a highly productive season for a team that hasn’t been to a Stanley Cup Final in 27 years.
Local 10 News spoke with the players on Thursday for the first time since the Golden Knight’s series-clinching win ended in a 9-3 blowout.
Panthers Head Coach Paul Maurice said that several of his players were playing with broken bones.
Panthers Defenseman Aaron Ekblad was skating on a broken foot since the first round of the playoffs and forward Matthew Tkachuk somehow managed to score a goal and play several periods of hockey with a broken sternum.
Ekblad told reporters that despite the injuries, the team battled until the very end.
“I mean it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it, and it was fun. You kind of adjust to the pain and stuff like that and it gets easier as you go,” he said.
Panthers Captain Aleksander Barkov said that nobody gets through the playoffs at 100 percent but is proud of his team’s ability to fight through adversity,
“You respect guys even before their injuries but the way they battled for the team doing everything they can even when they’re not 100 percent,” he said. “That’s playoff hockey and that describes our team pretty well this postseason. Everyone just gave everything they had even if it was one arm or one leg.”
The Panthers also made history by winning their first Stanley Cup Final game after getting swept by the Colorado Avalanche during the 1996-1997 season.
Tkachuk told Local 10 News that this season created memories that will last forever and feels that his team will be around for a long time.
“Have some unreal memories for a lifetime from this run and from this year and we know that nothing’s guaranteed, but we know that we have guys in the age range that if we do the right things, we can hopefully give ourselves a chance at playoffs for a bunch of years and then you see what happens,” he said.
“It just shows how bad we want it which makes it that much harder now and that’s just stuff that you guys know about,” he added.
Panthers Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said while everyone is excited about the team moving forward, he’s looking forward to a long, relaxing offseason.
“Everybody going to compete for a playoff spot and then for the cup. It’s going to be an exciting time but now it’s time to rest, to relax, to reset and see what’s next,” he said.
Maurice said that a few players will likely need surgery this offseason and Ekblad will certainly be one of them.
He expects that there could be a couple of players that won’t be ready for the preseason, but the Panthers said they will take this shorter rest any time if it means playing late into the playoffs every year.