Florida Panthers Showing Why Playing Defense Still Matters (2024)

The Florida Panthers are two wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, leading the Stanley Cup Final 2-0 over the Edmonton Oilers.

The Panthers have followed a similar trend in these playoffs, continuing to play stifling defense against their opponents. They have not given the Oilers much ice to work with in the series’ first two games, especially in Game 2.

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The Panthers outshot the Oilers 29-19 in Game 2 and held the high-powered Edmonton offense to just seven shots through two periods. Sound familiar to those in Toronto? It was not the Game 6 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New Jersey Devils where the Maple Leafs were held to six shots on goal, but the Panthers are proving that a good defense will beat a good offense.

Even though the Oilers dominated the shots on goal total and the territorial time in Game 1, it did not feel like Edmonton was in control. Florida could play their game style and get to their defensive structure in the third period. That structure carried over into Game 2.

The Florida Panthers gave Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Evan Bouchard, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins nothing to shoot at. Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky did not have to be as good in Game 2 as in Game 1. While he gave up a softy to Mattias Ekholm, the Oilers could not capitalize.

Florida effectively takes away the middle of the ice. This trend has been evident in the playoffs since the Devils of 1995, and it goes back even further to the legendary Montreal Canadiens teams of the 1970s. Every team plays a version of the left-wing lock or neutral zone trap.

Head coach Paul Maurice knew this when he took over a Florida Panthers team with 122 points in the 2021-22 season. The following year, the Panthers had just 92 points, but it took time for the players to adjust to Maurice’s defence-first system. Once they did, the Panthers squeaked into the playoffs and made it to the Stanley Cup Final.

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However, this season, there was buy-in, allowing the Panthers to march to the Stanley Cup Final. And it is not just buy-in from the bottom-six forwards or the defence but also from their top guys.

Last year, Sam Reinhart and Matthew Tkachuk sought to play offense first. Now, they are thinking and looking to play defense first, which has allowed the team to be successful in their zone. It starts with captain Aleksander Barkov, who once again won the Selke Trophy for the best defensive forward, but all five guys on the ice are playing as a unit.

Just look at what Barkov and that defense has done in the playoffs. They shut down Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers. And through two games of the Stanley Cup Final, they have held McDavid, Hyman, Draisaitl, and Bouchard to one assist.

That is how winning is done in the playoffs. The Florida Panthers limit chances and keep the players to the outside, which has helped Bobrovsky. When the Oilers try to get to the middle of the ice, they are hit, or there is a turnover.

When the Oilers break out of their zone, the Panthers do not give them any time or space. The Oilers dump the puck in, which allows the Panthers to get the puck and break out of the zone. The Oilers also would ice the puck or turn over the puck, leading to chances for the Panthers on Stuart Skinner.

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It is a familiar scene, as the Panthers are doing what teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, and Devils did before them: shutting down the neutral zone and physically beating their opponents out.

The Oilers have no answers for it through two games. The Lightning, Bruins, and Rangers never found an answer for it. The Florida Panthers make you play a certain way, and they want to see if their opponents can match it in a seven-game series.

It may not be pretty or exciting, and some might call it boring, but how the Florida Panthers play defense shows that winning is all that matters.

Florida Panthers Showing Why Playing Defense Still Matters (2024)

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