For our newest entry in the second NHL Saturday miniseries, we bring you the … Florida Panthers, perhaps the most bland of all the expansion-era franchises. They joined the NHL for the 1993-94 season and have made the Stanley Cup playoffs just 8 times in the organization’s 28-plus seasons. However, the team currently is enjoying a renaissance, with three consecutive postseason appearances, and the Panthers will try to make it a fourth straight later this spring. In the meantime, enjoy these tidbits … Read on!
No. 5: 1995-96 Florida Panthers
The first entry in the list happens to be the only team in franchise history to make it to the Cup Finals. After a third-place finish in the Atlantic Division based on a 41-31-10 record for 92 points, the Panthers got hot in the playoffs. They beat Boston in five games, Philadelphia in six games, and Pittsburgh in seven games before running out of gas against Colorado in the finals, getting swept in four games. Overall, this team was 12th in scoring and 6th in defense, so the postseason run was a bit fluky.
Right wing Scott Mellanby (32G, 38A, 160 PIMs) was the only skater to reach 70 points, and he barely did it. Overall, the team did have four scorers between 51-70 points, though. The goaltending was a similar mix of middling competence: John Vanbiesbrouck (26-20-7) and Mark Fitzpatrick (15-11-3) combined to post a 2.78 GAA. Yet the Beezer got hot in the postseason (2.25 GAA, .932 S%) to get Florida all the way to the Finals. Alas, the magic ran out there against a superior team.
No. 4: 1999-00 Florida Panthers
This team lost in the first round of the playoffs in a four-game sweep to the eventual Cup champion New Jersey Devils, so there’s no shame in that after a 43-33-6 regular season. That effort was good enough for 98 points and a second-place finish in the Southeast Division. The Panthers were sixth in scoring and ninth in scoring defense, although they did play the easiest schedule in the league that season. Perhaps that should not have made the postseason sweep a surprise? But it was closer than we remember.
Florida lost the first three games by one goal each, and overall, the Panthers managed just six goals in the four games. During the season, they were led by RW Pavel Bure (58G, 36A) in his prime. Two other skaters posted over 70 points for balance, and in the net, goaltenders Mike Vernon (18-13-2), Trevor Kidd (14-11-2), and Mikhail Shtalenkov (8-4-2) shared the load, overall, to post a respectable team GAA (2.51). This was a good team that just ran into the wrong opponent right away in the Cup playoffs.
No. 3: 2015-16 Florida Panthers
An organization postseason drought—one appearance in 14 seasons—came to an end with this edition of the Panthers, which finished first in the Atlantic Division with a 47-26-9 record for 103 points. Florida was the sixth-best scoring team and the sixth-best defensive team, providing excellent balance for a team that looked like it could go deep in the playoffs. But the Panthers lost four one-goal games, including three in overtime, in the first round to the New York Islanders, and that was that … Poof!
Scoring balance was provided by six skaters who managed at least 50 points, including future Hall of Fame RW Jaromír Jágr (27G, 39A, 48 PIMs, 79 games), who led the team in scoring. The goaltending benefited from the veteran presences of Roberto Luongo (35-19-6) and Al Montoya (12-7-3). They combined for a 2.30 GAA, a .921 S%, and 4 shutouts. Against the Isles, the former got all the starts, posting a .934 S%—while just giving up goals at the wrong times, obviously. Tough bounces, indeed.
No. 2: 2020-21 Florida Panthers
It’s fitting that the two best teams in franchise history are the most recent ones, right? In a Covid-shortened season, the Panthers earned a 37-14-5 record for 79 points and a second-place finish in the modified Central Division. They were fifth in scoring and eighth in defense, but again, Florida had the bad luck and had to face the eventual Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. Tampa Bay outscored the Panthers, 24-17, in the six-game series to eliminate Florida in a cross-state rivalry matchup.
Left wing Jonathan Huberdeau (20G, 41A, 55 games) and center Aleksander Barkov (26G, 32A, 50 games) were the top skaters on this squad, and goaltenders Sergei Bobrovsky (19-8-2), Chris Driedger (14-6-3), and Spencer Knight (4-0-0) combined to put up a 2.53 GAA for the season, as Driedger topped the trio with 3 SOs. Each of these three netminders got two starts in the postseason, but facing the defending champs who would repeat? Failure for any team, of course. No faults there.
No. 1: 2021-22 Florida Panthers
By far the best team in organizational history, this bunch went 58-18-6 to net a whopping 122 points and a first-place finish in the Atlantic Division. The No. 3 team above is the only other Panthers squad to post triple digits in points. Florida led the NHL in scoring, although it finished just 13th in defense. After a six-game series win against Washington in the first round, the Panthers once again had to face the Lightning—now the two-time defending champs. Tampa Bay pulled off a sweep, and that was it.
Once again, Huberdeau (30G, 85A, 54 PIMs) and Barkov (39G, 49A) topped the roster in points, and they were joined by C Sam Reinhart (33G, 49A) to make quite a formidable threat. Meanwhile, Bobrovsky (39-7-3) and Knight (19-9-3) were the primary goalies, and they anchored the defense with 5 combined shutouts in the regular season. The goalies weren’t the issue in the Tampa series, though, as the skaters ran into a hot goaltender on the other side, scoring just 3 times in the 4-game sweep. Ouch!