By Michael Moore

Something amazing happened last night. As I sat on my couch wrestling a ball away from my dog (Playing with dad and watching hockey are his favorites), the lowest seeded team in the NHL’s Eastern Conference swept the top seed. Every game was close. Every game was a battle. Every game was decided by a mere goal. Had the Chicago Blackhawks not beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins (in Pittsburgh) to fall to the third place in the draft lottery, none of what I witnessed on Hockey Night in Canada would ever have happened.
This is why I fell in love with this game. Expert opinions, rankings and stats mean nothing when faced with brute force and pure determination. At the end of the day (and yes, with a bit of luck), the team that wants it more can turn a series inside-out. Not that Rod Brind’Amour and his stars did not want it but the Panthers had NOTHING to lose. The Hurricanes were supposed to win this. The Maple Leafs were supposed to win this. THE UNSTOPPABLE BOSTON BRUINS WERE SUPPOSED TO WIN THIS. The Panthers never got that memo. Maybe they never cared. They just wanted it more and refused to give up. 
Similarly on Tuesday night, in another tight-knit contest, The Oklahoma Warriors won their first ever NAHL Robertson Cup National Championship by defeating the Austin Bruins 4-3 in front of a sold-out crowd at Fogerty Arena. The Bruins started strong and scored the first goal of the game, but the Warriors quickly responded with a goal of their own. In the second period, the Warriors took the lead with two more goals, but the Bruins fought back and tied the game at 3-3. In the third period, the game was tied until the Warriors scored a power play goal late in the period to take a 4-3 lead. The Bruins had a power play opportunity in the final minutes of the game, but the Warriors’ goalie and defense held strong to secure the victory.
I love close post-season hockey games. The grit, the tenacity, the “extra” that it takes to cross the line and nudge out your competitor. It is what makes our game so great! Even Charles Barkley agrees with me. Clearly, he wasn’t impressed after the round 1, game 4 basketball game between Denver and Minnesota. When he admitted (on air) that he had switched over to TBS to watch Stanley Cup playoff hockey instead. Barkley found the NBA Playoff game dull and even joked about it, saying, 
“I was watching hockey on TBS, I’m not gonna lie but this game was boring as hell.”
So, what gives a team that edge? Coach Littler knows. He teaches it. In fact, he found this article that digs into what makes this Panther’s team tick. Enjoy!

PANTHERS BRINGING ‘KILLER INSTINCT’ TO GAME 5 IN TORONTOAdam Lichtenstein, South Florida Sun Sentinel, May 11, 2023
SUNRISE — The Panthers could not stamp out the Maple Leafs’ hopes with a four-game sweep on Wednesday, but as the series heads back to Toronto for Friday’s Game 5, they have an opportunity to end a second straight playoff series by clinching in front of a hostile road crowd.
“In the situation we’re in right now, obviously, you want to have that killer instinct and continue to do what has made you successful at this point,” center Eric Staal said.
“But you’ve also got to enjoy it. You’ve got to enjoy playing, being out on the ice, enjoying the atmospheres. Every rink is really loud, phenomenal atmosphere and energy. This is the best time of year to play. This is why we lace up.”
The Maple Leafs forced a fifth game with a 2-1 win over the Panthers at FLA Live Arena on Wednesday night, but Florida’s mood after the game was far from dire. Panthers coach Paul Maurice was quoting Will Ferrell’s 2008 basketball movie “Semi-Pro” in the postgame press conference. 
“We lost a game today, that happens in the playoffs,” Maurice said after the loss. “I think to everybody so far. And we get to play the next one. OK, we’re all good with that?”
Florida, the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, was due for a loss, having reeled off six straight playoff wins prior to Wednesday’s defeat. Although the Panthers lost Game 4, they still have a two-game cushion over the Maple Leafs. They need to win just one of the next three potential games to advance to the franchise’s first Eastern Conference Finals since 1996.
“We’re living the best time of our lives right now,” center Aleksander Barkov said. “Every day is the best day of your life. This is why we play hockey. We want to be in the playoffs, and we want to go as far as possible. With this group of guys, nothing’s better than that. . . . We have amazing crowds for every game in the playoffs and a lot of support for us, so it couldn’t be better.”
The Panthers’ joyful play and proclaimed lack of pressure has carried them to the verge of the conference finals, but Maurice said that stems from a seriousness “on the matters that are important to us.”
“We judge ourselves by how hard we are to play against, by how hard we play,”
Maurice said. “And that’s a very serious matter. So if it’s not there, it’s not all giggles. But you’ve got to be able to enjoy it.”
Florida does have areas it needs to improve on in Game 5. Toronto clogged shooting lanes and stymied the Panthers’ offense for much of Game 4. Florida did not score until more than halfway through the third period, by which point it already trailed by two goals.
“They block a lot of shots,” Barkov said. “They played really good, defensively. But we can be better, offensively. We can keep the puck more in the zone and just work a little harder. I think (Wednesday) we didn’t do our job as well as possible, but it’s over now. We’re concentrated on the next game.”
The Panthers will need to concentrate. The Maple Leafs are in the same position that Florida was in two weeks ago. Down 3-1 against the Boston Bruins, the Panthers battled back to win three straight and upset the heavily favored Bruins. But those recent events won’t loom large in the Panthers’ minds, Maurice said.
“We have a certain mindset built that’s not related to those things, so it won’t be: ‘Hey, we can’t . . . do what Boston did.’
That won’t be part of our day. We want to try to play as hard as we can. We want to play a little better than we played last game, fix some things, because if we don’t, it doesn’t really matter whether you win a series or not. If you don’t learn and get better, you’re not winning anything.”

ELITE RUSH TEAM-PLAY WITH MACKLIN CELEBRINIA Quick Lesson From Top 2024 NHL Draft Prospect Macklin Celebrini Greg Revak, May 14, 2023 Every once in a while you see something that catches your eye. The below assist from Macklin Celebrini, who is the early favorite to be the first selection in the 2024 NHL Draft, provided one of those moments on the below rush play.

Saving IceOn a two-on-two rush, most players would drive wide and try to get a shot off. Celebrini generates speed with linear crossovers and it looks like he may try that route. The only issue is that’s the lane that his teammate is already occupying. This “blue line” route is a dime-a-dozen.

Rather than releasing the puck early or skating into a teammate’s ice, Macklin actually skates toward pressure and threatens the defender. The defender responds by moving further to the middle/dangerous ice and completely vacates the near side of the ice highlighted in yellow.

Macklin’s movement and patience to wait for the defender to cross once more towards the middle allows his teammate to move into a threatening space completely untouched before releasing a shot from a high-danger area.

This is elite hockey IQ on display. This play showcases Celebrini’s care for his teammates and his understanding of team play. He improves the condition of the puck despite purposefully putting himself in a worse situation/spot.
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