Panthers facing the task of regrouping for a Game 7, with history and the Stanley Cup on the line

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — It's the greatest offer a team could get at the start of every season: Reach Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and as an added bonus, play host to it in your rink.

One game. For everything.

“Yeah, 32 teams are all-in on that idea," Florida coach Paul Maurice said.

This is the reality for the Maurice and the Panthers. On one hand, the Panthers have blown a 3-0 series lead against the Edmonton Oilers in this Stanley Cup Final. On the other, there's still Game 7 on Monday night in Sunrise, Florida. And before his team took off on the 5 1/2-hour flight back home from Alberta on Saturday, Maurice insisted his team will focus on the opportunity that awaits, not the opportunities that were wasted while losing Games 4, 5 and 6 by 8-1, 5-3 and 5-1 scores.

“I’m not concerned about the past at all," Maurice said. "Our plan is set. It started last night after the game. Met this morning, did video, do the same tomorrow, get ready to play. I know it’s 3-3. The concern of the previous three games certainly didn’t affect Edmonton and it won’t affect us.”

There are lots of numbers swirling around right now and really, none of them are good for the Panthers. The Oilers became just the third team in Stanley Cup Final history to go down 3-0 in a series and force Game 7; the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs did it and beat the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7, while the Wings erased a 3-0 deficit against the Leafs in 1945 but then lost the finale.

And these Oilers are now the sixth team to have three consecutive games with at least five goals in the title series. The other five — Pittsburgh in 1991, Edmonton in 1984, the New York Islanders in 1981, Toronto in 1932 and Montreal in 1919 — all won the Cup.

“It’s nice to be around this team because I think they’re having the time of their lives right now,” Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said. "Not just because we're going to Game 7, but I think we were having a great time when we were down three games.”

The Panthers are not having a great time. That could change Monday. Or else.

The stigma of being the first team since 1942 to waste a 3-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final is the sort of thing that could haunt a franchise for a long, long time. It will inevitably bring questions about the futures for many people in the organization. It could bring a sudden end to all the momentum Florida has built in the last four years, after spending much of the previous two decades being largely irrelevant.

Or they could just win Monday and solve all those problems.

“Embracing that is the key to it,” Maurice said. "Feeling positive about and feeling excited about it, and that’s coming. Both teams get that opportunity to feel fired up. Game 7, Stanley Cup Final, it is set for every young man’s dreams. Nobody ever dreamt about a Game 4 overtime winner. It’s always Game 7.”


AP NHL playoffs: and