Ekman-Larsson ready to make impact for Panthers in Game 6 of Cup Final

EDMONTON– A little over a year ago, Oliver Ekman-Larsson was still suffering the repercussions of the last four seasons of his contract being bought out by the Vancouver Canucks.

The Florida Panthers defenseman finds himself in a much more preferable position heading into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on Friday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS ). Even though the Panthers’ 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series has been cut to 3-2, they remain one win away from winning the Stanley Cup for the first time.

It would also be the first Cup championship for Ekman-Larsson after 14 seasons in the NHL.

“It’s just an incredible feeling to have this chance to be in this place,” the 32-year-old said on Friday. “I think everyone is excited and this is what we have lived and worked for our whole lives to be in this position and be able to close out the event. Just have fun with it. That’s what we have to go out there, have fun and play hard. That’s what we’ve done all year and that’s what we need to do tonight.

Ekman-Larsson could play a pivotal role for Florida in its biggest game of the season. With the Panthers’ power play struggling through the first five games of the series, Ekman-Larsson will replace Brandon Montour on the top power play unit.

Florida is 1 for 16 with the man advantage in the Cup final and has allowed a shorthanded goal in losing each of the last two games. Shorthanded goals put the Panthers in a 1-0 hole early in each game, with Mattias Janmark scoring 3:11 in an 8-1 loss in Game 4, and Connor Brown scoring 5:30 in a loss by 5-3. Game 5.

Montour’s errant pass led to Brown’s breakaway goal in Game 5, so Florida is hoping Ekman-Larsson’s experience can help eliminate such mistakes.

“I’m ready,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I played a little bit (on the power play) at the beginning of the year. I’m just happy for the opportunity if it happens. Obviously, ‘Monty,’ he moved the puck well and the power play was really good, winning We just have to keep sticking with it, keep looking good and keep working hard at it.

Ekman-Larsson, who has six points (two goals, four assists) in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games, played on the top defensive pairing with Gustav Forsling and on the top power play unit in the first 16 games of the regular season for Florida. while Montour and Aaron Ekblad were each recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. It was a role he was accustomed to during his first 13 seasons in the NHL with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes (2010-21) and Canucks (2021-23).

The Canucks reacquired Ekman-Larsson on June 16, 2023, after he was limited to 54 games last season and did not play after February 15 when he broke his foot for the second times in less than a year. The Panthers signed him to a one-year contract on July 1 to help them get through the start of the season without Montour and Ekblad before he retreated to a lesser role playing third pairing with Dmitry Kulikov and second power play unit.

But Ekman-Larsson has proven during this period that he can play a bigger role, if necessary, like in Friday’s sixth game.

“Probably the best thing that happened was we got hurt, so he didn’t go in the 5-6 hole, he came in and he played with Gustav,” the Panthers coach said Paul Maurice. “And he came out after those 13-15 (games) seen in our room as the NHL defenseman that he is, and he was able to carry that confidence and respect throughout the year.

“Now he’s not 22 anymore. It’s a joy for him. It’s the thing he could have only dreamed of in his career a year ago to where he is now, and because that he has that confidence and that experience in him, he plays to get the most out of it.”

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