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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

After ‘Tough Night,’ Maurice Expects Ekblad to ‘Be Great Tonight’



Ekblad panthers
Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, pictured here in December against Seattle, had a rough Game 1 against the Bruins. Coach Paul Maurice said he expects him to “be great’’ in Game 2 tonight. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

FORT LAUDERDALE — Aaron Ekblad, like every other athlete, has had rough games before. He usually bounces right back.

The Florida Panthers expect nothing less tonight when they play host to the Boston Bruins in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at 7:30 (ESPN).

Monday night was a tough one for the Florida defenseman. His turnover deep in the zone went right onto the stick of David Pastrnak and led to Boston’s game-tying goal at 12:52 of the second period.

Ekblad ended the night minus-2 as he was on the ice for three of Boston’s five goals and one for the Panthers.

Paul Maurice was not in the mood to discuss Ekblad’s game after the 5-1 loss in Game 1, simply saying, “He’s a Florida Panther, and I love every inch of him. He’ll be better next game like the rest of us.”

Maurice went more in-depth on Wednesday morning — although the sentiment was essentially the same.

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After all, Ekblad was coming off a big series against the Lightning.

Since arriving as the No. 1 pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, he has been one of Florida’s top defensemen.

Last year, while battling through numerous injuries, he was famously called out during a home game by pro golfer and Panthers fan Brooks Koepka.

Not only did Koepka and Ekblad make peace thanks in part to Ryan Lomberg, but Ekblad finished last season strong and was solid defensively throughout the playoffs, even as he played through injuries that required surgery not long after the postseason run ended.

“I expect him to be really good,” Maurice said Wednesday. He was really, really good in the Tampa series for us with his gap closures. We really missed him in the back half of the year. He got hurt in the Calgary game and played one or two more games for us, but we missed him for about six to eight weeks there. You could see it in our record.

“He had a tough night. He was not alone in it. Certain things were obvious. I expect him to be great.’’

As for the heat Ekblad has been getting on social media, Maurice said it is part of the playoff animal.

“We’re in playoff mode, and so are you guys,’’ he said. “It’s not a condemnation because we need you to be make this as exciting as you possibly can or we’re going to be holding this in outdoor rinks and no one is going to come.

“It’s extremes. A goalie gets a shutout, and ‘my Lord, give him a 10-year deal.’ A player is minus-3, he’s not making the team next year. That’s what this is all about, that’s why the juice is way better in the playoff than any other time.

“He had a tough night and I expect him to be great tonight. The extremes, I understand. But I do not feel extreme right now.”

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