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The Florida Panthers are playing the biggest game in their team history and have one last chance to win the Stanley Cup | Steve Goldstein of CBS News Miami

MIAMI — They came to training camp more than nine months ago. The Heat were still in offseason mode. The Dolphins had just 70 points against Denver in an early season game. The Marlins were still playing their 2023 season en route to the playoffs.

All those seasons are over. That’s how long it’s been since this Panthers team came together after reaching the 2023 Stanley Cup Final. Fast forward to today and the Stanley Cup Final 2024.

Remarkably, their 209th game over the last two seasons will determine the team's fate and place in history. Game 7 is Monday night at Amerant Bank Arena against the Edmonton Oilers. The Stanley Cup will be awarded to either Aleksander Barkov or Connor McDavid to hoist over their heads.

It is the third Game 7 in South Florida sports history. Both the Marlins and the Heat won the championship.

On the line

After cruising through most of the playoffs with ease, winning 15 of 20 games, the tide has turned. With a 3-0 lead against Edmonton, it seemed inevitable that the Panthers would take that final win and the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. However, the Oilers have caught up with the Panthers, winning three games in a row, forcing a seventh game.

What's next?

A Florida win? Their comeback in Game 7 will be talked about for decades. An Edmonton win? Their amazing comeback and loss to the Panthers will be talked about for decades. The Oilers are trying to emulate the 1942 Maple Leafs and become the only team to ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the Cup final. Whatever happens Monday night, it will be historic.

Panthers find their game

Amazingly, the Panthers have not been the team they have been all season in the last three games. Their typical forechecking, defense and high volume of shots have been exploited and stopped by the Oilers and their speed. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky saved the day in the first game, but the power plays and counters are now finding their way into the net. The Panthers need to turn back the clock to the last 105 games. They need great saves and effective, efficient and smart play. And it is imperative to take the lead as they have not led since game three.

Be special

You have to give Edmonton credit. Their penalty kill is historically good. The Panthers need to find a way to be effective on the power play. Faster puck movement is easier said than done against the aggressive, fast Oilers Penalty killeris needed to generate chances and shots on goal. And even if they don't score, success in those areas will keep the momentum going in the game. The Panthers look to be putting on a repeat performance from Game 6, where they stayed out of the box well and played shorthanded when necessary.

Enjoy the moment

There are moments in sports when players and teams rise to the occasion and show their heart. The Panthers have done that many times over the past few years, and in their current situation, doing it again in the biggest game in franchise history is the ultimate challenge. Hockey is the only sport without exclusions, and there are numerous plays during a game that give the advantage to the player and the team that simply wants it more. Desire and heart are invaluable qualities. Few NHL players ever get the opportunity to play in a seventh game for the Stanley Cup. The Oilers have come from a three-game deficit to give themselves a chance. Now it's up to the Panthers, down to the last man, to give it their all and play their A-game.

Anna Harden

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