For the first time in their franchise history, the Florida Panthers have reached the absolute summit of team success in the National Hockey League. With their 2-1 Game 7 victory at home over the Edmonton Oilers Monday night, the Panthers exorcised their playoff demons in the past, and their captain, Aleksander Barkov was a big reason by Florida is now the reigning king of hockey in North America.

Not only that, but Barkov also just became the first Finland-born NHL captain in league history to hoist the Stanley Cup, as noted by senior director of editorial Shawn P. Roarke.

“It’s a great honor,” Barkov said of the feat. “Finland is a huge, huge hockey country and there have been a lot of great captains from Finland.”

Still, no accomplishment must be sweeter for Barkov than what the Panthers just achieved.

“It was our dream and now it’s our reality,” Barkov said while in the middle of the ice following the reception of the greatest trophy in sports from league commissioner Gary Bettman.

The 28-year-old Barkov did not score a point in Game 7 of the series against a tough and resilient Oilers squad but he was a plus-1 in the contest and came up with a team-leading total of three takeaways. While Barkov never lit up the lamp nor assisted on any of his team's goals in Game 7, he set an example for the Panthers defensively.

As a team, Florida had 12 takeaways. But more than that, he helped the Panthers contain arguably the best player on the planet, with Oilers superstar Connor McDavid getting held without a point in both Games 6 and 7. McDavid looked unstoppable in Edmonton's back-to-back wins in Games 4 and 5 during which he racked up eight points. But in the last two games of the Stanley Cup Final, Barkov and the Panthers successfully bottled up McDavid, who went scoreless in that span.

Overall in the series, Barkov finished tied for second on the team with Anton Lundell with five points on the strength of two goals and three assists. In the 2024 playoffs, Barkov paced Florida with Matthew Tkachuk in total points, with each star collecting 22 points.

Aleksander Barkov, Panthers were not going to be denied of the Cup in 2024

Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov (16) kisses the Stanley Cup after defeating the Edmonton Oilers in game seven of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at Amerant Bank Arena.
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The 2024 Stanley Cup title was the culmination of all the sacrifice and season heartbreaks Barkov and the Panthers went through in the previous several years. Drafted second overall in the 2013 NHL Draft — just behind Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, Barkov saw the Panthers miss the boat to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five of his first six years in the league. In the 2022-23 NHL campaign, Paul Maurice's first season as head coach of the Panthers, Florida reached the Stanley Cup Final but got crushed in five games by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Getting back to the Stanley Cup Final is hard enough, let alone doing it the following year. But that was exactly what Barkov and the Panthers did. That setback at the hands of the Golden Knights seemingly toughened up Florida. The Panthers finished the 2023-24 regular season with 18 more points in the standings than they did a year before. In the playoffs, they victimized the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the first round, the Boston Bruins in six games in the second round, and the New York Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference finals.