Nobody but themselves envisioned the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Final. After all, six weeks ago, this team was fighting for its playoff life. And the Panthers would not have made it had it not been for an unlikely team: the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks upset Pittsburgh in the regular season to start a string of history-altering NHL news.
The Penguin Effect: Chicago’s Upset Alters the Playoffs
On April 11, the Chicago Blackhawks faced the Pittsburgh Penguins as +385 underdogs. Convert that to implied probability and Chicago barely had a 21% chance of winning. After all, the Blackhawks were second-to-last in the NHL and Pittsburgh was looking to clinch a playoff spot.
If Pittsburgh beats Chicago:
– The penguins make the playoffs
– The Blackhawks don’t get Connor Bedard
-The Florida Panthers don’t make the Stanley Cup Final
-The Habs get a second top 15 pick in a generational draft
Franchise altering game for 4 different teams… crazy! pic.twitter.com/FXtYH3d3Ka
— Myles Stuart (@MylesStuart23) May 23, 2023
Most NHL predictions expected Pittsburgh to clobber Chicago. After all, Pittsburgh beat Chicago 5-3 in their first meeting of the season. Pittsburgh had an opportunity to beat Chicago and extend its streak of playoffs appearances while the Blackhawks’ odds for landing the first overall pick improved (which they eventually won, ironically). This was the most obvious “NHL script”.
But the Blackhawks did not read the script. Petr Mrazek stopped 38 of the 40 shots as Buddy Robinson and Andreas Athanasiou scored third-period goals to help Florida leapfrog Pittsburgh in the playoff race.
Florida lost its last two games though it did pick up a point in an overtime defeat to Toronto. Had Florida defeated Toronto and/or Carolina to end its season, it might not have needed Chicago or Columbus to beat Pittsburgh. Fortunately for Florida, both teams came up big for it.
This upset would go down as one of the biggest “what-ifs” in NHL history. Had Pittsburgh defeated Chicago as most NHL picks had it, we may have a different-looking Stanley Cup Final. Maybe either Boston, Toronto, or Carolina would be in. Or maybe, Pittsburgh?
That’s all speculation. The reality is that Florida is four wins from winning the Stanley Cup Final when two months ago, this team did no appear headed to the postseason.
Pep Talk: How 2 Rants Also Pushed Florida
While Florida owes plenty to Chicago and Columbus for defeating the Penguins, the team also got itself in its position by going on a late surge. It coincided with Keith Tkachuk, Matthew Tkachuk’s father, ripping into Paul Maurice and the Panthers.
The team was blown out 5-2 in Ottawa against Matthew’s brother, Brady. Keith then went on air to call out the Panthers labeling them “soft” and saying they have no sense of urgency as they lost their fourth straight game to fall from the wild card standings.
Hey #NHLJets fans, where have you seen this before?
Paul Maurice absolutely UNLOADS on the Panthers’ bench during a coach’s challenge. pic.twitter.com/SZqrjh0jjT
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) March 30, 2023
In the following game, Maurice himself unloaded on the team as it trailed the Leafs 2-1. Florida rallied to win the game then won five more games, including one against Ottawa in a rematch and one against Buffalo, another team in the wild-card picture.
And when the Panthers fell short in its final two games, Chicago came in and saved the day against Pittsburgh. But Florida never stopped fighting. Since both Tkachuk and Maurice ripped into them, the Panthers have gone 18-5-1.
The Panthers always had the talent. This team won the President’s Trophy last season and swapped Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar for Tkachuk. The online sportsbook still gave the Panthers decent preseason NHL odds to win the title and at least, make the playoffs.
After underachieving for most of the season, the Panthers found renewed will and are now on the verge of making history.