Barkov: Panthers’ surprise run to Stanley Cup Final ‘made us stronger’

Barkov: Panthers' surprise run to Stanley Cup Final 'made us stronger'

The Florida Panthers may have fallen short of winning their first-ever Stanley Cup championship last spring, but captain Aleksander Barkov said his team grew from the experience despite the “very frustrating” defeat.

“I think that whole run, it made us stronger,” Barkov said during a recent interview for the “NHL @TheRink” podcast. “The core is pretty much the same with the team, and now we’ve experienced almost everything. … We know. When you’re experienced in something, you know what to expect.”

After a wildly inconsistent 2022-23 regular season, the Panthers eked their way into the playoff picture, claiming the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference by just one point over the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres.

From there, Florida took the league by storm.

The Cardiac Cats emerged as unlikely victors against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins, defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs, and – in their first Eastern Conference Final appearance since 1996 – swept a perennial contender in the Carolina Hurricanes.

“We played in Toronto – probably the biggest hockey market – during the playoffs. We experienced that,” Barkov said. “Carolina, the way they play, we experienced that. Then obviously the finals, I feel like it was just a different animal leading up to it.”

The Vegas Golden Knights ended up taking the Stanley Cup Final in five games to dash the Panthers’ dreams of lifting the Cup.

Prior to the miracle run, Barkov only had 26 games of playoff experience under his belt and had never made it out of the second round. The 28-year-old was instrumental to Florida’s success in 2023, chipping in with five goals and 16 points in 21 postseason games.

Florida won’t look too different in 2023-24 – its key departures of the offseason were Anthony Duclair, Radko Gudas, and Marc Staal – but the team will likely be starting the new campaign in a tough Atlantic Division without two of its top defensemen. Both Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour are recovering from offseason shoulder surgeries. The former played through the playoffs with a broken foot and torn oblique.

“Those types of guys are not replaceable at all. … They were a huge part of our success last year. … It’s a great challenge for us, for everyone to step up,” Barkov said.

Puck drops on the Panthers’ 2023-24 campaign on Oct. 12 against the Minnesota Wild.

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