Florida Panthers capture Stanley Cup

Former Niagara IceDog Carter Verhaeghe only player to notch multiple points in seventh and deciding game. Photo Credit: Florida Panthers/Facebook

For the first time in their franchise history the Florida Panthers are Stanley Cup Champions.

And Canadian NHL teams, and their fans, will have to wait another year to capture Lord Stanley’s mug.

Former Niagara IceDogs captain, and Panthers forward, Carter Verhaeghe was the only player in the seventh and deciding game to record multiple points – opening the scoring and assisting on Sam Reinhart’s game-winner in a 2-1 Florida final over the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers were trying to become just the second team in NHL history to battle back from 3-0 deficit to win the Cup.

The only team to accomplish that feat – the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Many forget, and fans of the blue and white likely don’t want to remember but, Verhaeghe was a Maple Leafs third round draft pick back in 2013. Amazingly, 11 years later he’s now a two-time Stanley Cup Champion.

The Waterdown, Ontario native joined Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas on the ice at Amerant Bank Arena moments after raising the Cup with his teammates.

“It’s amazing, to win on home ice in Game 7 after being in the finals last year, it feels unbelievable,” Verhaeghe said.

Two years after being drafted by Toronto, the Leafs dealt Verhaeghe to the New York Islanders where he’d spend not only time in the American Hockey League but also the ECHL which is two tiers below the National Hockey League.

Verhaeghe finally found a full-time NHL spot when he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization – where he won his first Stanley Cup during the covid-bubble 2020 season.

“It’s just so much hard work and grinding, and so much support from my family, my friends, my fiancé, but I knew with this group we had, anything was possible. We wanted it so bad.

We planned from training camp how we wanted the Stanley Cup, we dreamed about it all year, and for it to come true – it’s just so much hard work – everyone was just phenomenal.”

After posting 34 goals and 72 points in the regular season, Verhaeghe added 11 goals and 20 points in the playoffs.

And while 20 points in 23 postseason contests is impressive, Connor McDavid’s 42 points in 24 games will go down in history as one of the best playoff performances of all-time. McDavid, rightfully so, was named Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff most valuable player.

Edmonton’s core of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and former Leaf Zach Hyman at forward, and their blueline of Evan Bouchard, Mattias Ekholm and Darnell Nurse will remain intact.

Stuart Skinner officially arrived between the pipes, and earned a future contract, but it’s the Oilers depth that is the question mark heading into next season.

Here’s a look at Edmonton’s free agent list after losing the Stanley Cup Final:

Restricted free agents: Dylan Holloway, Philip Broberg

Unrestricted free agents: Connor Brown, Sam Carrick, Warren Foegele, Sam Gagner, Adam Henrique, Mattias Janmark, Corey Perry, Vincent Desharnais, Troy Stecher, Calvin Pickard

Brown, Foegele and Janmark are perhaps the names that stand out most.

Meantime, Florida is already planning for a repeat in 2025.

And while Toronto fans are likely stewing over Verhaeghe, Buffalo fans are thinking of the Sabres South as they were aptly called before the NHL playoffs began.

You see, no fewer than four Sabres played for the Panthers.

Reinhart, former captain Kyle Okposo, Evan Rodrigues and Brandon Montour are now all Stanley Cup Champions.

So the 1993 Montreal Canadiens, featuring St. Catharines native Brian Bellows, remain the last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup.

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