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The Florida Panthers bring home their team's first Stanley Cup

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It would have been history. Last night, in the NHL Stanley Cup final, the Edmonton Oilers had hoped to become the - only the second team ever to win the trophy after losing the first three games of the best of seven series. But their opponent, the Florida Panthers, held off the comeback to bring home their first ever Stanley Cup. NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan joins us now.

A lot of intrigue about this game. And it was about, really, Edmonton because they were trying to pull off this massive comeback. The team wound up losing. Why did they lose?

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: You know, I think a 3-0 comeback is just a very hard thing to do. It's incredibly rare in sports - as you mentioned, only once in the history of the Stanley Cup final. Also only once in Major League Baseball playoff history, literally never in the NBA. So had they pulled this off, it would've been historic, just one of the greatest comebacks basically of all time in North American sports. And for the Panthers, it would've been this, like, extremely epic collapse that probably would have been remembered for a long time, too. But as it turns out, the teams that get out to that 3-0 league tend to be pretty good, and the Panthers pulled it off.

MARTÍNEZ: Did the game actually, the Game 7 itself, live up to the hype? Because, I mean, I was thinking about it all day. I'm not necessarily a hockey fan. I love sports, but hockey isn't the first thing that I think of when I think of, you know, my love of sports. So did the game live up to the hype?

SULLIVAN: Totally. I mean, I thought so. It was, like, a very exciting start. Each team had a goal in the first seven minutes of the game. And then Florida eventually basically returned to this play that had won them those first three games, with this very aggressive, exciting defense, forcing a lot of turnovers, stunning play by their goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky. Basically, they made it 2-1 late in the second period and then just stood firm as the Oilers, led by their superstar Connor McDavid, like, furiously tried to tie the game. But they couldn't pull it off. So in the end it's the Panthers skating the laps around the ice, hoisting that Stanley Cup above their heads.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And you mentioned Connor McDavid, who, I mean, even though his team lost, I think his status has now gone to legendary realms.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

MARTÍNEZ: He's one of the biggest stars in the league. So what kept him from continuing to put the Oilers on his back and complete the comeback?

SULLIVAN: You know, I would say he did his best. He did have two shots on goal. And really, he played a huge portion of the game. And so, by the end, he was looking just, like, totally exhausted. And I would say that he's been just, like, outstanding throughout these playoffs for Edmonton. As you mentioned, you know, he broke - he's been incredible. He broke this Wayne Gretzky record for the most assists in a single postseason. It's really - can't overstate how big a deal it is to break any Gretzky record these days. And so, as a result of the efforts, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is given to the most valuable player in hockey for the postseason. It's just the second time ever that it went to a player who lost the Stanley Cup who wasn't a goalie for that team. So I think that just really shows how incredible his effort was.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Becky, here's some actual sound from the Panthers locker room after they won - whew, I mean, a total sigh of relief...

SULLIVAN: Yeah

MARTÍNEZ: Because they almost, as you said, blew it.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So last year, they lost in the Stanley Cup Final. And so I think this year was - you know, the pressure was already on. Now they're bringing it home. And I just want to leave you with one little moment that made me smile.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: So as you know, the Stanley Cup is engraved with the names of the players and the coaches of the teams who win it. And so here's a little clip from Florida coach Paul Maurice, who has spent 26 years coaching in the league and until now, no one had coached more games - won more games without winning a cup than he did. So he spoke to the Canadian TV Network SportsNet after the game and just got emotional reflecting on his journey to this moment, having started watching hockey as a kid with his dad.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL MAURICE: Hey, Dad. Your name's going up with your heroes - Beliveau, Richard, Howe, Lindsay, Maurice.

SULLIVAN: Just a lovely moment.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, great moment. NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan. Thanks a lot.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.