Florida Panthers fans have every reason to celebrate as their team returned to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1996 in absolutely stunning fashion.
The Panthers, who entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference support side, pulled off upsets over the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and on Wednesday, the Carolina Hurricanes.
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Matthew Tkachuk scored the game-winner with 4.9 seconds left to seal Florida’s 4-3 win. Video from inside FLA Live Arena showed fans erupting in pure happiness after the superstar, whom the team acquired in the offseason from the Calgary Flames, pushed the Panthers closer to the trophy.
«It was pure joy,» Florida coach Paul Maurice said after the game.
Toy rats came down from the stands in a salute to the former arena that was apparently a home for unwanted guests back then. Twenty-seven years later, the team returns to the final with options for glory.
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«We earned it, and we definitely didn’t do it the easy way. We earned it,» Tkachuk said.
Sergei Bobrovsky had 36 saves in the win. He had a .966 save percentage in the series.
«It’s unbelievable,» said the goalkeeper. «We show resilience…and we’re lucky to have Chucky on our side. He knows how to score big goals.»
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The Panthers will wait for the winner between the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars on the other side of the group. The Golden Knights have a 3-0 series lead over the Stars.
Associated Press contributed to this report.