The Florida Panthers won Game 2 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final on Monday night. However, their win came at a cost. Florida captain Aleksander Barkov left the contest in the third period. He took a hit to the face from Edmonton Oilers superstar Leon Draisaitl and had to be helped to the bench. Barkov did not return to the game following the hit.

After the game, head coach Paul Maurice certainly seemed less than pleased. When asked about the hit, he kept his thoughts on the matter rather blunt. “This isn’t the Oprah Winfrey show, my feelings don’t matter,” the Panthers coach said, via Daily Faceoff insider Frank Seravalli.

When asked for an update, Maurice initially said he didn't have one. However, he later mentioned that he was not the reason the Panthers captain did not return to the game. “There was 9:28 on the clock, I believe, and it was a 2-1 game. I wasn’t holding him back,” the Panthers head coach said, via Seravalli.

Panthers win Game 2 without Aleksander Barkov

Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov (16) leaves the ice holding his jaw during the third period against the Edmonton Oilers in game two of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at Amerant Bank Arena.
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers received a big-time performance from goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in Game 1. In Game 2, the 35-year-old netminder stood tall once again. But unlike Saturday's contest, the Oilers were able to find a way through. Mattias Ekholm scored on Edmonton's first shot of the game to make it 1-0.

However, Florida found their form in the second period. Niko Mikkola scored to bring the game level 1-1. In the third period, Evan Rodrigues came up big once again. He scored two goals, making it three within the last two games, to give his team a 3-1 lead. Veteran defenseman Aaron Ekblad scored an empty net goal late in the third period to seal the Game 2 victory.

With this win, the Panthers now own a 2-0 series lead. They head into Games 3 and 4 with a chance to sweep the Oilers and claim their first Stanley Cup. If they pull it off, it'd be a feat not seen since the late 1990s. The Detroit Red Wings were the last team to sweep the Stanley Cup Final. They did it twice in 1997 and 1998 to cap off a run of four straight sweeps in the Final.

Closer than ever before

Florida has entered uncharted territory. They are now closer to the Stanley Cup than they ever have been before. The Panthers made the Stanley Cup Final twice before this season. In fact, they were one of the teams swept in the mid-to-late 1990s before 1998. They fell to the then-recently relocated Colorado Avalanche in 1996.

After that, it would take nearly 40 years for the Panthers to return to the Final. Last season, they met up with the Vegas Golden Knights in the tournament's final round. They entered the Final having won 11 of their previous 12 games dating back to the first round against the Boston Bruins.

However, Florida came unstuck against Vegas. An inability to stop the Golden Knights offensively, combined with undisciplined play, were their undoing. In the end, the Golden Knights won their first Stanley Cup in five games. They defeated Florida 9-3 in Game 5 to seal their first Cup.

This season has certainly proved that they are legitimate contenders. Now, the Panthers are on the cusp of hockey's biggest prize. It'll certainly be interesting to see if they can complete the sweep in Edmonton, or if the Oilers still have some fight left in them despite the first two losses.