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6 NHL Sun Belt Franchises That Have Made Stanley Cup Runs

By Daniel Friedman
» More Columns

On Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning will host the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. It marks the latest triumph for a Sun Belt hockey team, which is becoming a semi-regular occurrence, despite all the criticism the league (and, most notably, commissioner Gary Bettman) has received for placing those teams in their current locales.

Here are six southern franchises that have made runs (both successful and unsuccessful) to the Final:

6. Florida Panthers (runner-up in 1996)

Joe Sakic
Joe Sakic, captain of the Colorado Avalanche, carries the Stanley Cup trophy after defeating the Florida Panthers 1-0 in triple overtime of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Miami Arena in Miami, Florida. (Credit: Al Bello/ Staff)

It was the "Year of the Rat" inside the old Miami Arena, a tradition born after Panther forward Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the locker room prior to the home opener that season. Fans quickly caught on and started throwing plastic rats on the ice after every goal. The Panthers went on a magical run to the Final in '96, only to be thwarted by Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche. Florida hasn't had much success since, but it's heading in the right direction now.

5. Carolina Hurricanes (Stanley Cup Champion in 2006, runner-up in 2002)

Corey Stillman, Rod Brind'Amour
(L-R) Corey Stillman #61, Rod Brind'Amour #17, owner Peter Karmanos, Kevyn Adams #14 and Glen Wesley #2 of the Carolina Hurricanes watch as the 2005-2006 Stanley Cup banner is raised. (Photo By Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Led by rookie goaltender Cam Ward and fellow freshman Eric Staal, as well as a cast of talented veterans such as Rod Brind'Amour, Mark Recchi and Ron Francis, the 'Canes took Lord Stanley over the upstart Edmonton Oilers in '06. They'd put up a good fight four years earlier against the Detroit Red Wings, but were still heavily outmatched.

4. Dallas Stars (Stanley Cup Champion in 1999, runner-up in 2000)

Mike Modano
Mike Modano #9 of the Dallas Stars carries the Stanley Cup on the ice after the Stanley Cup game against the Buffalo Sabres at the Marine Midland Arena in Buffalo, New York. (Credit: Ezra Shaw/ Staff)

Brett Hull's controversial overtime game-winner propelled Dallas past Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres. That goal is still the subject of intense debate amongst hockey fans. They fell to New Jersey the following year.

3. Anaheim Ducks (Stanley Cup Champion in 2007, runner-up in 2003)

Andy McDonald
Andy McDonald #19 of the Anaheim Ducks celebrates winning the 2007 Stanley Cup onstage during the 'Anaheim Ducks Stanley Cup Victory Celebration' on June 9, 2007 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)

Star netminder J.S. Giguere was so good for the Anaheim (then "Mighty") Ducks in their loss to the Devils during the '03 Final, and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP despite finishing on the wrong side of the handshake line. Four years later, Giguere would get his ring, as the Ducks knocked off Ottawa.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (Stanley Cup Champion in 2004, Eastern Conference representative in 2015)

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Rangers - Game Seven
Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates with his teammates after defeating the New York Rangers by a score of 2-0 to win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 29, 2015. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Like the Ducks, who joined the league a year later in 1993, the Bolts now have two Stanley Cup Final appearances in their relatively short history. It almost seems like they've amassed the same number of legendary heroes as some older franchises have (Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Steven Stamkos, Dan Boyle and Dave Andreychuk, to name a few). Can they capture a second Cup? We'll find out soon enough.

1. Los Angeles Kings (Stanley Cup Champion in 2012 and 2014, runner-up in 1993)

2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five
Alec Martinez #27 and Justin Williams #14 of the Los Angeles Kings shake hands with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers after the Kings' 3-2 victory in double overtime during Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center on June 13, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Kings took quite a while to reach true relevancy on both the California and NHL landscapes, but the arrival of Wayne Gretzky on August 9, 1988 changed everything. The Kings wound up losing to Montreal in the 1993 Final, and would not get another opportunity to win it all until 19 years later. This time, they made no mistake, dispatching Martin Brodeur and his Devils in six games. Last season, they defeated the Rangers in five for the second Cup in three years.

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