They were No. 8 seeds. They barely got into the playoffs after up-and-down regular seasons. They had to face the No. 1 overall seeds in Round 1 of the postseason. They had to win Game 7s in Boston just to keep their seasons alive. They are Eastern Conference champions. They are each four wins from a championship.
This is the story of the Miami Heat and the Florida Panthers.
And it could have an ending like none other.
There’s never been a season where one city — or one metro area, in this case — has gotten to celebrate both winning both the NBA title and the NHL’s Stanley Cup. There have been nine previous tries; in two cases there’s been an NHL title and no NBA crown, in three cases there’s been an NBA title and no NHL crown, and in the four other cases both teams have lost.
South Florida has a chance to change that. Larry, meet Stanley. Stanley, meet Larry.
“That would be insane. … If that would ever happen, that would truly be unbelievable,” said Florida star Matthew Tkachuk, who had three game-winning goals for the Panthers in their East finals win over Carolina. “It’s just great how both fan bases have been able to root together.”
It’ll continue to be that way. The NBA Finals start in Denver on Thursday night with the Heat taking on the Nuggets; the Stanley Cup Final starts in Las Vegas on Saturday night with the Vegas Golden Knights taking on the Panthers.
There could be as many as 14 championship-series games involving the Heat and Panthers in a span of 19 days. Starting Thursday, there will be eight games in a span of 10 days — no game for either sport on June 2, no game for either sport on June 6, and four games in a four-night span in South Florida starting June 7. And there’s never two games on the same night, either.
“I know it’s fun to watch,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I’m not sure what they’re doing, but it’s 5-on-5, right? I get that. There’s a connection now between the two teams through sports fans down here. So, there’s hockey fans that are probably like me, but now they’re dialed into that because it’s just a great story. And it’s fun to be a part of it.”
Got into playoffs as second wild-card from Eastern Conference. Beat Boston 4-3 in Round 1 (winning a Game 7 in Boston), beat Toronto 4-1 in Round 2, beat Carolina 4-0 in East finals.
Got into playoffs after winning second play-in game. Beat Milwaukee 4-1 in Round 1, beat New York 4-2 in Round 2, beat Boston 4-3 in East finals (winning a Game 7 in Boston).
PAST INSTANCES OF TWO FINALISTS
1957: Boston Celtics win NBA Finals, Boston Bruins lose Stanley Cup Final.
1958: Celtics and Bruins both lose.
1972: New York Knicks lose NBA Finals, New York Rangers lose Stanley Cup Final.
1974: Celtics win, Bruins lose.
1980: Philadelphia 76ers lose NBA Finals, Philadelphia Flyers lose Stanley Cup Final.
1992: Chicago Bulls win NBA Finals, Chicago Blackhawks lose Stanley Cup Final.
1994: Knicks lose, Rangers win.
2003: New Jersey Nets lose NBA Finals, New Jersey Devils win Stanley Cup Final.
2016: Golden State Warriors lose NBA Finals, San Jose Sharks lose Stanley Cup Final.