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Florida ready as Panthers try to bring home first Stanley Cup tonight

Panthers 4-1 after losses in these playoffs, outscoring opponents by a combined 21-10
Florida Panthers right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (10) reacts after defenseman Niko Mikkola scored during the second period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers, Monday, June 10, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

It used to be a running joke in Florida: If you wanted tickets to a Panthers game, just ask. Freebies weren’t hard to find.

Those days are long gone. Especially now.

The Panthers, for the first time in their history, are set to play a home game with a chance to win the Stanley Cup. They take a 3-1 lead over the Edmonton Oilers into Game 5 of the Cup final on Tuesday night with many tickets on the secondary market going for more than $1,000 apiece.

A historic night may await a franchise seeking its first NHL championship since its inaugural season 30 years ago.

“This is why we play,” Panthers forward Vladimir Tarasenko said.

The Panthers took a 3-0 series lead into Game 4 at Edmonton on Saturday night and got rolled, the Oilers staying alive with an 8-1 win. A good sign for the Oilers: No team has lost a playoff game by seven or more goals and went on to win the Cup since Toronto in 1947.

“Momentum just lasts short periods of time, pretty much shift to shift,” Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said. “Maybe we’ve got the momentum for the first shift, but I think that’s about it. Yeah, that’s about it.”

The Panthers are 4-1 after losses in these playoffs, outscoring their opponents by a combined 21-10. But the last four periods of this series — going back to Game 3 — have been all Edmonton.

The score over the last 80 minutes of hockey entering Tuesday night: Oilers 10, Panthers 1. Edmonton nearly pulled off a rally in the third period of Game 3, cutting a 4-1 Florida lead to 4-3 but getting no closer, and then had the rout in Game 4 behind four points from Connor McDavid.

“We’re taking it one day at a time, one game at a time. It’s all we can do,” Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl said. “If you look at the top of the mountain right now, it’s pretty steep, but taking one day at a time doesn’t sound so bad. That’s our goal, that’s our focus.”

Florida’s focus is different: It’s Cup time.

It’s taken 30 seasons, 457 different players, 18 different coaches, about two decades of irrelevance wedged in there along the way, rumors of contraction, rumors of relocation and who knows how many bad nights to get to this moment.

The Cup is in the Panthers’ building. Win on Tuesday night, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will hand it to them for the first time.

“It’s going to be an awesome atmosphere,” Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe said, “and I’m looking forward to it.”

READ ALSO: ‘A lot of confidence’: Oilers primed after big Game 5 win