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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Anton Lundell Brings His Best to Florida Panthers in the Playoffs

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Anton lundell
Anton Lundell, pictured here in the second period of Game 3 of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final on June 8, had a big game against the Bruins on Friday. He scored the game-tying goal and assisted on the game winner. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

On the night the Florida Panthers selected Anton Lundell with the 12th pick of the 2020 NHL Draft, Sasha Barkov was home in Finland fast asleep.

Due to the pandemic, that draft was held online and, with the Panthers not knowing when the next season would begin, Barkov went home.

A few hours after the draft wrapped up, Barkov woke up and saw who his team picked.

“He has a good head about the game,’’ Barkov texted as he ate breakfast. “I wasn’t thinking he would drop to us. I thought he would go in the top 10.”

If there was a redo of that 2020 draft, Lundell would be.

Of the 11 players drafted in front of him, only four — including top pick Alexis Lafreniere and No. 3 Tim Stutzle — have played in more games than Lundell’s 216 in three seasons.

Carolina’s Seth Jarvis, picked No. 13, has played in 231.

Lundell’s 43 goals and 116 points ranks sixth among all first-round picks from 2020.

“You hear about a 200-foot game and to me, that’s a hockey player,’’ Bill Zito said following his first draft night as GM of the Panthers was finished.

“He’s somebody who competes in all areas of the game and one of the hallmarks of Anton is his compete.

“He enjoys hockey, loves to play, wants to win. Without putting too much pressure on him … he’s the kind of player we want to bring into the Florida Panthers; someone who will do the little things, wants to play in all areas of the ice.”

Sound familiar?

Although the ‘Baby Barky’ nickname has not really stuck, there is a lot of similarities in the games of these two Finnish centers.

Florida panthers

The Florida Panthers announce their first-round pick in 2020. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

Lundell was drafted to potentially become Florida’s No. 2 center behind Barkov and, had Sam Bennett not been acquired during the 2021 season while Lundell stayed in Finland, perhaps that already would have happened — and he has been the No. 2 center for times this postseason.

When Bennett went out against Tampa Bay with the hand injury, Lundell stepped up.

In Game 6 on Friday, Paul Maurice flipped Lundell and Bennett.

“The thing you learn in a person, perhaps the most important thing, is in the playoffs,’’ Maurice said. “You lose Sam Bennett, Lundell goes in. Verhaeghe and Tkachuk take off. Then, Benny comes back, we win the next two, ‘why would you change it?’ Lundell is on fire, he is playing a different game now that I have ever seen him play. When Lundell scored his goal, Verhaeghe and Tkachuk were on the ice. So we just let those run. Benny is fine, but he just missed five playoff games. He is just coming back into form.’’

Regardless, the Panthers are happy with the way the 22-year-old Lundell has grown into his game.

Especially in the playoffs.

Lundell has, admittedly, been hot-and-cold when it comes to scoring during the past two regular seasons.

But his game certainly hits another level in the playoffs.

Friday night was a great example of Lundell bringing it when it mattered most.

With the Panthers trailing 1-0 in the second period, Lundell jumped on a loose puck and whipped it past Jeremy Swayman.

“That was huge. I think our whole team was just waiting for that moment,’’ Lundell said Friday night. “One goal is going to bring us more energy, belief and confidence. It was a tight game, but we believed, kept going and never quit.’’

As the clock ticked down in the third and Game 6 appearing headed to overtime, Lundell fired on Swayman. The puck was stopped, but the Boston goalie left a rebound which went to the left circle. Gus Forsling hopped on it and sliced a shot underneath Swayman’s glove for a 2-1 lead with 1:33 remaining.

Lundell has two goals and 11 points in 11 games this postseason, a point back of what he scored in 21 last year.

It was his second multi-point game of the Boston series — and second in the final three games against the Bruins.

“It’s huge that we have guys stepping up,” Lundell said. “We have guys coming out of the lineup, but we’re still winning games. Just play our game and play well. That shows a lot about our team and want to keep doing. Me and everyone else wants to step when the team needs you.”

As for that draft night back in 2020, Lundell spent the night helping his HIFK team beat Lahti 3-1 by assisting on the winning goal.

After the game, Lundell went to dinner with family and friends to celebrate the win as well as the upcoming draft which he watched at his arena in Helsinki with about 20 well-wishers — including his dad Jan who is the former longtime goalie for HIFK who is now the team’s goalie coach.

Although he did not sign with the Panthers until a few months later, Lundell said he could not wait to get to Florida — and play with his favorite player.

You can guess who that was.

“I will remember this day for a long time,” Lundell said. “It was fun getting the win today. It makes this day even better.”

For the most in-depth coverage of the Florida Panthers:

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1) V. NEW YORK RANGERS (MET1)
GAME 1
  • When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
  • National TV: ESPN
  • Streaming: ESPN+/Hulu
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Series Schedule — Game 1: Panthers at Rangers, Wednesday, 8 (ESPN); Game 2: Panthers at Rangers, Friday 8 (ESPN); Game 3: Rangers at Panthers, Sunday May 26, 3 (ABC); Game 4: Rangers at Panthers, Tuesday May 28, 8 (ESPN): Game 5*: Panthers at Rangers, Thursday May 30, 8 (ESPN); Game 6*: Rangers at Panthers, Saturday June 1, 8 (ABC); Game 7*: Panthers at Rangers, Monday June 3, 8 (ESPN). (*) — If Necessary.
  • Second Round, Florida d. Boston 4-2 — Game 1: Boston 5, @Florida 1; Game 2: @Florida 6, Boston 1; Game 3: Florida 6, @Boston 2; Game 4: Florida 3, @Boston 2; Game 5: Boston 2, @Florida 1; Game 6: Florida 2, @Boston 1.
  • How They Got Here: Florida d. Tampa Bay 4-1, Boston 4-2; Rangers d. Washington 4-0, Carolina 4-2.
  • Last Season vs. Rangers — Regular Season: Rangers won 3-0
  • This Season (Panthers Won 2-1) — At Florida: Panthers 4 Rangers 3 (Dec. 29). At MSG: Panthers 4, Rangers 2 (March 4); Rangers 4, Panthers 3 OT (March 23).
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Rangers lead 61-34-8, 6 ties
  • Postseason History: Rangers Lead 1-0 (1997 1st)

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