The Florida Panthers Lost the Stanley Cup, Why Am I Still Smiling?

Rabbi Paul Plotkin
7 min readJul 5, 2023

In the weeks following our return from Croatia, and as I have been reacquainted with my Canadian Neighbors, especially the hockey fans (i.e. most Canadian males)I keep getting asked some version of the following question.

“How are you doing, or how are you feeling?”. The first few times it happened I was puzzled. Was I sick with something that everyone else but me knew about or am I so far down the dementia road that I forgot how sick I was?

I would present a very puzzled look and then ask what exactly they were asking about.

The Panther’s loss in the Stanley Cup finals was the consistent response. This is not as unexpected it may seem since they all saw me walking around in my Panther’s hat, my Panther’s short and long sleeve jerseys, and of course my metaphoric saluting to the flying Panther’s banner hanging from my second story balcony.

For 6 weeks they engaged me in regular discussion about the state of the playoffs. Many were Toronto Maple Leaf fans who have learned to expect failure in the playoffs and after the Panthers defeated them, they pledged their loyalty to the Panthers.

We were on a magic carpet ride together. We swept the Carolina Hurricanes and now we were the team of destiny. I left for a preplanned trip to Croatia during the finals and lived with a 9 hour time change. I hadn’t planned on it but the Panther fan running my body clock woke me up at 5.30am urging me to open my phone and see the score in mid game. We were getting killed so I went back to sleep and that was all she wrote.

I was sad that we didn’t win, (Las Vegas really was the team of destiny and by the way the better team) but I wasn’t disappointed or frustrated or God forbid angry. Just the opposite, I was quite composed and proud of my team. That is why when the questions started up on my return, I was confused about what they were inquiring about when they asked if I was all right.

There is a back story that needs to be shared to fully put this question in perspective. Last year I was a nervous “cholerea” ( a Yiddish term for a nervous mad man).

We had just won the President’s cup signifying that we had won more games than anyone else in the league. This was going to be our year. We were going all the way to the Stanley Cup and we were going to win it. I had waited 28 years for this and as the biggest winners who was going to beat us? We played the Washington Capitals in the first round and even though we were in first place and they were in eighth place it was too close for comfort. While we squeaked through in seven games it didn’t matter we were going all the way.

Since my expectations were so high, my anxiety level in each game rose to a near fatal level. I self-medicated. By the second period of each game, I prescribed a single malt shot to at least lower my blood pressure and my heart rate. By the fourth game of the first series, I prepared the bottle as part of my pregame rituals. I drank enough that I was forced to go on trips out of the country so that I could restock at duty free shops.

Isn’t that where everyone gets their good scotch?

We were swept in the second round, and I was inconsolable. I was sad, depressed, and in the middle of the night on the verge of tears. Eventually I put on my big boy pants and got into the swing of real life.

Fast forward to this season. There was a new coach, many new faces, and a team that started the season deeply out of contention. By the halfway point in the season, we were not in anyone’s discussions for making the playoffs. Then something started to happen. We won a few games. We lost a few less games. We were rising in the standings but no one, myself included, held any serious thoughts of making the playoffs.

It was the last week of the season, and we were on the outside looking in. Pittsburgh was playing at home against Chicago, the most hapless team in the league. All Pittsburgh had to do was win that one game and they were in and we were out. Chicago had to lose to assure themselves of the best chance for the first pick in the draft and a chance to draft a generational player. The stars were aligned perfectly for us to not make the playoffs. Then the unimaginable happened. Pittsburgh won and we were in.

The playoffs started and we were playing the number 1 seed the Boston Bruins who had just won the President’s cup and won more games in one season than anyone in the history of the league. I was happy we were in and knew with certainty that in 4 games our team was out, and I would choose a second team to root for. There was no scotch on the table, there was no need. We would lose and exit the playoffs that we had no business being in and I could sleep peacefully from the first game on.

It went 7 games and before each game I predicted with certainty that we would lose. We won and I was shocked, but not to worry the Leafs were coming to kill us.

We beat them in 5 games. Still no scotch because this was a major fluke and Carolina would end this silly run. After all we almost never win in Carolina.

We swept them. Out came the scotch but not for medicinal purposes but to toast the unimaginable run that we were on.

Then the finals came and I was sure Las Vegas was going to win, and after giving it their all, the Panthers lost.

I could not have been more proud of them.

Fast forward to my return from Croatia and everyone was asking after my mental health and I was responding with a quizzical look.

Why was this different? I was crushed in losing in the second round but was serene and proud in losing in the 4th and final round.

Then I realized what was going on. The difference between last year and this year was that last year I had great expectations and this year I had none.

Failed expectations lead to disappointment, sadness, frustrations and maybe even anger at the source of the failure. No expectations allow one to accept any success, any accomplishments, with equanimity, grace and inner peace. It is a bonus not a loss.

In how many ways in our lives have we allowed expectations that we created or imposed to lead to sadness, disappointment, or anger?

I have met many parents who in a moment of honesty will share how disappointed they are with a child who did not live up to their expectations.

Shortly after he/she was born they were already convinced that he/she was bound for the Ivy leagues and a life of great accomplishments. The child was not consulted and when he/she chose something else to do with their life, the parents were crushed.

How many young children who showed some acumen for music had parents who pushed them to accomplish excellence only to turn that musical ability into a child’s hate for music. Their expectation destroyed their child’s love of music and led to their profound disappointment in their child.

How many backstage parents in their expectation to see their child become a star, saw their relationship turn into estrangement and sadness from both sides.

We have expectations for our children to follow in our professional paths, to follow in our religion, to adopt our politics, our loyalties, our tastes and when they inevitably do not how painful is the fallout to both sides?

Setting goals and transmitting our values is a parent’s role; but then it stops. We can share our feelings and our dreams but not in the form of expectation. Too often we learn that lesson too late after the damage and the pain have ruined the relationship.

This lesson is true in so many relationships, maybe even in all relationships. Do friends betray or disappoint us, or was it just that our unexpressed expectation for that relationship led to sadness, frustration, or a sense of betrayal?

In 1996 the Panthers went to the Stanley Cup finals. 27 years later they got there again. In 27 years from now if I am still here, I will be 100. I don’t expect to see them win the Stanley Cup then or that I will be here to watch it, so I hope they make it earlier or if need be, that year, but I expect nothing.

Hope lives eternal, expectations are toxic. I hope to be able to raise a glass of scotch once in my life to drink a lechayim to the champion Panthers. As we conclude all such hopes in my Rabbinic world, “ Keyn yehi ratzon… May it be God’s Will”.

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Rabbi Paul Plotkin

I am a retired Conservative Rabbi. I was a pulpit Rabbi for 40 years. I supervise a chain of kosher Delis called Ben's .