The Florida Panthers are headed to the 2023 Stanley Cup Final. As a result, they’ve drawn comparisons to teams of the past. The Edmonton Oilers reached the Final in 2006 but lost in Game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes. In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings went on a historic Cinderella run, becoming the first eighth-seed team to win the Stanley Cup. There are definitely some similarities between the Panthers and the Kings and how they had playoff success.
High Expectations, Big Trades, and Coaching Changes
In 2011, the Kings lost in the first round for the second consecutive year. The lean seasons before that left them with a lot of young players and assets, so they decided to take big swings that offseason and acquire Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers, giving up Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and a second-round draft pick in the process.
Richards provided solid depth at center alongside a developing Anze Kopitar and a solid third-line pivot in Jarret Stoll. Add them to Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick, and several other talented youngsters, and the Kings were on their way to becoming contenders in the Western Conference.
However, they still needed to make two key moves to really compete. First, they replaced head coach Terry Murray with Darryl Sutter in December. It was clear through the beginning and middle parts of the season that they needed more scoring, and they traded Jack Johnson for Jeff Carter. This was enough for them to sneak into the playoffs and get hot at the right time.
The Panthers also made a big trade this summer, acquiring Matthew Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames. The circumstances for this deal were much different compared to the Kings’ big trade. The Panthers traded Johnathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weeger for Tkachuk, two key players from the previous season’s President’s Trophy team. The trade had many expecting Florida to be one of the best teams in the East once again. Tkachuk played his part, and this trade has worked out better than the Richards’ deal did for the Kings so far, but both teams struggled to live up to expectations.
The Cats also made a coaching change, but the timing was different. They let interim head coach Andrew Brunette go in the summer and replaced him with Paul Maurice. However, both teams went for experienced coaches who would play different brands of hockey than their predecessors. Both moves were met with skepticism, as Sutter hadn’t coached since 2006, and Maurice had left his job with the Winnipeg Jets in the middle of the previous season. These hires proved to make a difference to the team’s playoff success, even if they didn’t get the desired regular season results.
Dominant Possession Teams in Regular Season
Headed into the 2012 Playoffs, the Kings had the second-most shot attempts at five-on-five in the regular season. The trade to add Carter helped translate those shot attempts into goals; they were last in the league in goals per 60 minutes before the trade. With Carter in the lineup for the last 21 games of the season, they started to click on offense, scoring the fifth-most goals per 60. They also saw a noticeable difference in their shooting percentage from the regular season to the playoffs, making a jump from 7.49% to 9.33% in the postseason.
The Panthers were also an excellent possession team in the regular season. They ranked third in Corsi for%, behind only the Hurricanes and Calgary Flames. They didn’t struggle to score as much as the Kings did, as L.A.’s possession numbers slightly fell off in the postseason, but not to the extent that Florida’s have. The Panthers’ Corsi is now down to just 47.75% at five-on-five, but they have played good possession teams in the Hurricanes and the Boston Bruins.
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The teams had similar profiles headed into the postseason. They each had some obvious star players who were some of the best in their position. Despite this, both teams needed to get hot at the end of the season and barely made the playoffs. The biggest similarity they may have is the play they’ve gotten from the most important position in hockey.
The 2011-12 season was Quick’s coming out party. He had been a solid goalie for three years prior, but this season was his best. He had a goals-against average (GAA) under two, and a career-high .929 save percentage (SV%). This was the first time he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy. As good as he was in the regular season, he was even better in the playoffs. He posted a stunning .945 SV% and saved 12.68 goals above expected.
The regular season did not go as smoothly for Sergei Bobrovsky. He had a .901 SV% and saved just 2.92 GAA. It has been a long time since Bobrovsky was an elite goaltender in the NHL and struggled toward the end of the regular season. That caused the Panthers to start Alex Lyon for the first three games of the playoffs. Since Bob has regained the starter’s net, he’s been dominant. He has by far the most goals saved above expected of any goalie in the 2023 Playoffs and has a SV% of .935.
Related: Panthers’ Bobrovsky has Been Biggest Piece of Stanley Cup Run
There’s often a lot of talk about a hot goaltender carrying a team to a Stanley Cup Final. It rarely happens to this extent, and still, it takes big performances from the skaters to do it. This might be the biggest similarity the two teams share, as these have arguably been the two best goalie performances since the NHL began tracking shot-attempt data in 2007-08. Bobrovsky has currently saved the second-most goals above average, and Quick had the best SV% of any goalie who played more than seven games in the playoffs in this era.
More Similarities than Differences
These teams certainly don’t play the exact same style of hockey. The league is different in 2023 than it was in 2012. The Kings of that era were one of the last teams who played “heavy hockey.” The Panthers’ forecheck is key to their success, even if they do it a different way. It’s clearly an important way to play in the playoffs, and it may be something that has its intensity dialed up when the postseason begins.
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One of the more shocking things about the Kings’ run in 2012 was that they went up 3-0 in every series, breezing their way to the Cup despite being an eighth seed. The Panthers didn’t quite do that, but after going down 3-1 to Boston, they’ve gone 11-1 since. That is the same level of dominance that the Kings had, which is rarely achieved in the playoffs. Both teams feel like they are too good to have been eighth seeds, but at times during the season, it looked like they would miss the playoffs.
If Florida wins the Stanley Cup, they will have done so after being the biggest longshots entering the playoffs since those Kings in 2012. Perhaps these types of teams fit a profile of teams we should look out for when considering potential dark horses entering the playoffs.