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The Panthers’ frustrating end to the season should fuel the team’s fire to achieve the ultimate goals in no time

SUNRISE, Florida. – Almost a month has passed since the Florida Panthers season ended in a very abrupt and shocking way.

Let’s be honest… it doesn’t feel any better now than it did then.

The last time we spoke to the Panthers was less than 48 hours after Game 4 in Tampa, and it was clear the injuries were still very much alive.

“It hurts,” Sam Bennett said.

“You wake up and your pride is painful,” said Sergei Bobrovsky. “It is not easy.”

“It’s very disappointing right now,” said Claude Giroux.

As members of the Florida Panthers walked in and out of their end-of-season media interviews last month at the FLA Live Arena, there was still an overwhelming sense of shock, sadness and discontent hanging over everyone. who were seated in front of the microphone.

Well, everyone except rookie Anton Lundell, who always seems to have a half-smile on his face and a positive attitude in his heart.

“I’m just trying to work on my game and improve over the summer,” he said with his signature sideways smile.

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Many team members, including interim head coach Andrew Brunette, woke up that day with their minds still in routine mode for the season, expecting to roll out of bed and start their normal game rituals.

After all, they were supposed to host Game 5 of their second-round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7 p.m. that night.

Instead, it was an early morning visit to the arena to clean lockers, sit down for exit meetings with members of the front office and coaching staff, and say goodbye to the brothers with whom they have fought every day for nine years. month.

“It was awful,” Brunette said of her ride to the rink. “I woke up this morning thinking we were playing.”

Bruno was not alone.

No one thought the rematch between Florida and Tampa Bay, two of the best and most exciting teams in the league, would end in a quick and not-so-painless sweep of the Panthers in four games.

But alas, that’s what happened.

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Unsurprisingly, the Lighting are now back in the Stanley Cup Finals.

But the Panthers, a team that many in the hockey world consider the favorite to reach the final, have been wondering for several weeks what could have been.

And thinking back to that day, which was the last time the 2021-22 Panthers players, coaches and front desk staff were all under one roof, a team that had much to be proud of (see: Trophy, Presidents ‘) and an extremely bright future to look forward to was unsurprisingly still focused on the incredible opportunity they were letting slip through their fingers.

“I think the disappointment still stings,” Bruno said on Wednesday morning. “Not really much talk about next year, more about how much it hurts.”

Of course it hurts. The Panthers were historically good, and not just franchise history because let’s be honest, that’s not a very high bar. No, we’re talking about NHL history.

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Only six teams in the league’s long and distinguished history have won at least 58 games.

“It’s disappointing, to say the least, after such a successful season,” Bennett said.

Combine how good Florida was with the incredible friendships and camaraderie that blossomed in that locker room and you can begin to get a clearer picture of how devastated these men felt.

“It’s tough,” Bennett added. “We were a very close team, probably the closest I’ve been in.”

BOBSPECTATIONS

Sergei Bobrovsky won 39 games last season, the second highest tally of his career.

His goals-against-average (2.67) and save percentage (.913) were the best he had in three seasons with Florida.

He also saved his best hockey for the end of the season. Heading into the playoffs, in March and April, Bob went 13-1-0.

Bobrovsky was also arguably the Panthers’ most consistent player in their ten postseason games, despite winning only four of them.

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With four years, $40 million and a no-move clause remaining on his contract, to say it’s nice to see Bob heading in the right direction would be an understatement.

“There are a lot of good positive things you can take away from this season,” Bobrovsky said. “As a team, as an organization, I thought we had taken a step forward, a step towards our goal. Personally, I had so many good things to be happy and feel good about. I look forward to the summer to get better, get stronger and prepare for the next one.

This will be the big question ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.

Will the Panthers get last season’s Bob, who has improved over the year and made big, timely saves at crucial times, or will they get the guy who was a big disappointment during the major? part of his first two years in Florida?

To no one’s surprise, Bobrovsky firmly believes he will pick up where he left off.

“I think I had a really good season, regular season and playoffs, I performed well, so I want to build on that,” he said. “I still see a lot of potential in myself and I don’t see any limits.”

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There have been rumors that the Panthers have been testing the waters to see if any teams are open to trades that would include Bob and his $10 million cap for the next four years, or at least a good chunk of it. .

It seems like a heavyweight. Yes, Bobrovsky is coming off his best season since signing the contract, but a strong three-season on that contract seems like a tough sell. Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that the NHL’s salary cap has increased by a million dollars since 2019 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the other hand, we’ve seen Bill Zito perform magic in unexpected or unexpected places, so who knows what might happen.

ANOTHER JUMBO SEASON?

It’s no secret that future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton’s career is coming to an end.

The 42-year-old signed with Florida in the offseason in hopes of finally winning his first Stanley Cup.

After 24 seasons and over 1,500 points, the former All-Star and Olympic gold medalist has some big decisions to make.

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First, he must determine if he has enough gas in the tank for another lap.

Joe Thornton of the Florida Panthers shakes hands with Corey Perry of the Tampa Bay Lightning after Game 4 of the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 23, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images) (2022Getty Images)

Thornton played just 34 games for Florida, the lowest total of any season in his career. His only playoff action came in the Panthers’ final game after being a good zero for the front nine. He played six minutes and 18 seconds and was a minus-1 in Game 4 against Tampa.

While only some of the games missed during the regular season were due to injury, it’s worth considering that the once-elite two-way center players have simply grown too old to watch the game on a daily basis.

Once that decision is made, depending on the route he takes, Thornton will then have to choose where to pursue that dream, which will obviously depend on the potential suitors who offer him a chance.

I asked him after the season what his decision-making process would be if he considered retiring or going for the elusive Stanley Cup.

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“I really have no idea,” Thornton said. “I haven’t thought about it at all yet.”

As has been the case everywhere he played, Thornton left a positive impression on his teammates and coaches.

Based on feedback from his coaches and teammates, Jumbo’s value off the ice was perhaps more crucial than his on-ice contributions.

“I wish I could play with him, but I have to train him,” Brunette said. “It’s been an incredible experience to be with him every day and see the joy and enthusiasm he brings to hockey.”

Depending on how the Florida coaching situation unfolds, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Thornton return to the Panthers in a similar role.

He’s been playing on one-year contracts since 2017, and his contract with Florida last season was a paltry $750,000.

Whatever Jumbo’s future is, I wouldn’t expect to know for a few months.

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