When the final seconds ticked off the clock during Wednesday’s Game 4 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, the reality set in for fans of the Florida Panthers: they were heading back to the Stanley Cup Final. A goal by Matthew Tkachuk – the star’s third game-winning goal in the series against the Carolina Hurricanes – with less than five seconds left set FLA Live Arena into a frenzy complete with a shower of rubber rats making their way to the ice below. Along the way, the Panthers made some serious hockey history by making its second Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. Besides winning its first playoff sweep in franchise history, Florida became the third team in the league’s expansion era to make the Final as the lowest seeded team that season. Of the 36 players currently listed on the roster for the Panthers, 21 of them were not even born the last time Florida played in a Stanley Cup Final appearance – losing in Game 4 of the 1996 Final against the Colorado Avalanche. The Panthers will host Games 3 and 4 of this year’s Final with the possibility of also hosting a Game 6. They will be the first Stanley Cup Final games played inside FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, which did not open until October 1998. Florida will play either the Dallas Stars of the Vegas Golden Knights – two teams the Cats went a combined 1-3 against in the 2022-23 regular season.