• By: Dave Gross

Florida Panthers – Inevitable or What?

So unlikeable.

So abrasive.

So damn good.

There’s absolutely nothing ‘so-so’ associated with this year’s Florida Panthers who stepped to within a pair of wins from a franchise-first Stanley Cup triumph after Monday night’s 4-1 win over a game Edmonton Oilers hockey team.

Yup, the Oilers were very game in Game 2 (and Game 1 as well) but, in the end, suffered through what New York’s Rangers, Boston Bruins and – seemingly eons ago – the cross-state Tampa Bay Lightning faced: A team on a mission.

Ottawa fans probably aren’t liking or enjoying this parade very much. Not only is Florida sporting the lone Tkachuk to win in the playoffs, but it’s also double-tough when watching the Panthers roll over the opposition fairly handily just as they did four straight times against the Senators this past season, outscoring Ottawa to the tune of 16-2.

Edmonton’s obviously putting up much more of a fight and bar a few bars here and there, could have this final tied 1-1.

But to the naked eye, Florida just doesn’t look like a team that’s about to go down.

In any manner.

At any time.

Like the Ottawa Senators, this doesn’t give me much joy. Like a lot of the rest of Canada (as well), this corner’s openly rooting for an Edmonton comeback win. But there’s a distinction between hope and reality here. The reality being that Florida’s on that mission in 2024 and it’s just a pair of wins away from realization.



Back in the good old days (meaning as recently as last season . . .), hockey fans trumpeted the first round of the playoffs as being the most entertaining due to the level of intensity, rancor and animosity.

But this time around, the best has seemingly been left to the last . . . if you like that sort of thing.

In fact, the opening round of this year’s post-season was relatively mild and peaceful.

Check it out: When the afore-mentioned Florida Panthers were set to square off with Tampa Bay Lightning, the dopamine was popping in anticipation. The expectation was that the first rounder would consist of a number of four-hour games.


But the reality was the series turned out to be as soothing as a Morgan Freeman narration.

In fact, of the eight opening sets, the best for hate was between the Boston Bruins and usually placid Toronto Maple Leafs . . . and even that was pushing it.

Edmonton versus Vancouver lived up to first-round expectations, in the second round. And outside of a few sneers and snide glances, the conference finals were serene.

The finals are just two games deep but already we have knee-on-knee hits, elbows to the head, coaches gesticulating wildly and plenty of post-whistle scrum-nation. And it’s not the third- and fourth-liner skaters taking the bumps. Monday night saw Darnell Nurse, then Eetu Luostarinen, then Florida capitano Aleksander Barkov leave with injuries.

Clearly this kettle is on to boil, and you get the sense if Game 3 gets a tad lopsided – one way or the other – it’ll bubble over.



Vegas is hosting and Ottawa will be busy.

The NHL entry draft is set for June 28th and 29th at the Sphere in Las Vegas.

While there’s no intrigue surrounding the San Jose Sharks and the impending selection of forward Macklin Celebrini with the first overall pick, there’s plenty of speculation as to what’s going to follow.

The Sharks have already let it be known, in the broadest of hints, that Celebrini (the youngest skater in history to win the Hobey Baker Award) is their guy.

There appears to be a bit of a consensus that the also-rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks grab Artyom Levshunov, a potential stud defenceman, at No. 2.

After that?

Up in the air, like a George Clooney movie.

Ottawa currently owns both the seventh and 25th overall picks. Prognosticators, including the dependable lads at NHL.com, have the Senators casting their eyes on London blueliner Sam Dickinson, Saginaw right-defenceman Zayne Parekh or NCAA standout Zeev Buium (also a d-man) at No. 7.

Dickinson is well-rounded, an excellent skater and distributor of the puck. Buium’s also known for his wheels, while Parekh gets eyes on him for his attack game.

Having said (or written) all that, Ottawa General Manager Steve Staios is contemplating making a rather large splash at this year’s proceedings. The Senators need (a lot) of help in (a lot) of key areas, immediately.

If there’s a move to be made, No. 7 could easily be in play. If Ottawa holds on to that pick, No. 25 is most certainly in play.



Photo: CourtesyESPN.com