FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — They waited 30 years. It was going to take more than a massive thunderstorm to deter the Florida Panthers from this party.

Not even a torrential downpour — so bad that flood warnings were issued in the area — accompanied by a huge lightning storm could stop the Panthers’ Stanley Cup celebration on Sunday, one that the franchise had waited forever to have. With tens of thousands of fans estimated in attendance, the team arrived on double-decker buses that took a beachfront route before stopping on the sand for a rally where the trophy was hoisted yet again.

Carter Verhaeghe was the player who got to bring the Cup onto the stage, Queen’s “We Are The Champions” blared and nobody minded how soaked they were, nobody minded that it was still raining. The Panthers were champs, after three decades of waiting. The title was won last Monday night, Florida beating Edmonton 2-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“It’s incredible,” said goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who hopped off the bus with the Cup at one point and decided to walk it down the road for a bit as fans who lined the parade route — some since Saturday night — roared. “I never thought this many people would come out to support us. For us to share this moment with the fans, it’s unbelievable.”

The parade and the rally capped a first few days of celebration that included the following items, among others, going into the Stanley Cup at various times: beer, champagne, apple juice, no fewer than three human beings — all children of players — and a steaming dish of pasta topped with freshly grated cheese, a dinner that Panthers legend Roberto Luongo proudly enjoyed.

“I can’t put this into words,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said as he surveyed the parade scene.

Panthers owner Vincent Viola danced on the stage as his wife Theresa captured the scenes on her phone. Matthew Tkachuk hopped off the route at one point to visit his favorite bar, Elbo Room, which just happened to be adjacent to the buses’ path. Players, one by one, all got their moment to hoist the Cup on stage. There was a campaign T-shirt some players wore — Maurice Zito 2024, a nod to coach Paul Maurice and president of hockey operations Bill Zito, who masterminded the Cup run. Other fans had a similar shirt — Barkov Tkachuk 2024, a nod to Florida’s stars.

And as if the crowd needed more encouragement, a shirtless Panthers forward Nick Cousins ran over to the fans at one point, chugged a beer in celebration and punched the air.

“It feels like a culmination of your life’s effort, everything you’ve ever worked for,” defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “When you get that trophy over your head, it’s a beautiful feeling. And it’s the pinnacle of hockey. It’s everything you could possibly imagine.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL

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