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2024 Stanley Cup Champions

Barkov and Ekblad Endured a Lot, Now Celebrate with the Stanley Cup

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Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov and Aaron Ekblad have spent the past 10 seasons together — and now they get to celebrate with the Stanley Cup. // Photos courtesy @FlaPanthers and Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for E11EVEN Miami

SUNRISE — Few players have been linked in the history of the Florida Panthers more than Sasha Barkov and Aaron Ekblad.

The two were drafted a year apart — Barkov second overall in 2013, Ekblad first in 2014 — and have spent the past 10 years as teammates.

The heralded Florida core once included the likes of Vincent Trocheck, Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad, and Jonathan Huberdeau.

Barkov and Ekblad are the only ones left.

And, last Monday night, the two became Stanley Cup champions together.

“This is the best feeling of my life so far,” Ekblad said. “I have been following Barky’s footsteps for the past 10 years and hopefully we can do it again together. We did it. We are champions and no one can take that away from us. I can’t wait for that 20-year reunion with the boys. That’s going to be incredible.”

Added Barkov: “It was a long ride, but sometimes it takes this long. We deserve it, for all the hard work we have done. As a team, as an organization, as a community. It has been, every single year, so much fun to see how much it grows. This is great. Best place to be right here.”

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Today, Barkov and Ekblad will take part in a party many thought would never arrive at the Championship Celebration on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

The Florida Panthers are Stanley Cup champions and it would be hard to name two players on that ice Monday night who deserved it more than them.

“They are the fabric. They are the core,’’ coach Paul Maurice said. “They are the identity of it. Their personalities are the room. The distance this franchise has covered over three or four years is based on the distance their games have covered. The leadership they have shown and grown into. They are the reason that we’re here.’’

Said general manager Bill Zito: “Those are the real guys. They’re the ones who really built this because they stayed with it and they care. They’re Panthers and they’re so proud. What they went through, they stuck to it. They believed in the community.’’

Ekblad and Barkov, obviously, have different personalities.

Zito described Ekblad as the “barbecue guy’’ for his ability to bring players together as one of the leaders of the social scene.

Barkov, the first Finnish captain to ever raise the Stanley Cup, is much more subdued although he has certainly opened up in the past week and let his party flag fly.

On the back of Matthew Tkachuk’s golf cart early Tuesday morning with the Stanley Cup was Barkov, and, he was the first to take the Cup out of the Elbo Room for a stroll on the beach.

“He’s the best teammate I’ve ever had,” Tkachuk said. “The best player, the best leader. So thankful I’m able to ride shotgun with him. He’s the real deal and I’m so happy for him. He’s been here a long time, went through the ups and downs, and he deserves this as much as anybody.’’

Ekblad was front-and-center for the march to the ocean with the Cup later that morning, carrying it through a throng of celebrating onlookers. He joined Tkachuk in the Atlantic with that Cup as well.

He showed no ill effect from the ankle injury he played through in the Final.

After the things he played through last season — from a broken foot, to a shoulder which needed surgery — Ekblad was feeling pretty good this time around.

“McDavid fell on my ankle, so you can imagine how that felt and how that went for the rest of the series,’’ Ekblad said with a smile. “I was perfectly healthy until that.”

More FHN Coverage of the Stanley Cup Champion Panthers:

UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS
  • Stanley Cup Championship Parade, Fort Lauderdale: Today, 11 a.m.
  • NHL Free Agency: Monday
  • Florida Panthers Development Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Early July
  • Florida Panthers Training Camp, Fort Lauderdale: Mid-September
  • Florida Panthers Preseason: Sept. 22-Oct. 5
  • Florida Panthers Opening Night/Banner Unveiling: TBA

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