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2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Dalpe, Fitzgerald Get Postseason Shot with the Florida Panthers



Florida panthers
Zac Dalpe, left, and Casey Fitzgerald got the opportunity to play in the postseason with the Florida Panthers on Sunday due to injuries to Anthony Duclair and Aaron Ekblad. // Photos by Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

SUNRISE — A few minutes before the Florida Panthers took on the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of their playoff series on Sunday afternoon, Zac Dalpe was told he was going to be in the lineup.

He had already changed out of his gear and was ready to get a workout in, watching the first period on the television inside the weight room when assistant coach Jamie Kompon came in with the news.

“I fully undressed and getting ready to workout,” Dalpe said. “Hey, I have always said I am a guy who is ready to go and is prepared to play. It may be 10 years that you don’t play, but that one time, you’re ready.’’

Defenseman Casey Fitzgerald was pretty confident he would get to play Sunday what with Aaron Ekblad ruled out but was not sure until he was officially given the word.

Regardless, two players who were not expected to factor into Florida’s playoff plans — but did exactly what they were taught to do and stayed ready for the chance.

Both played pretty well in their limited opportunities.

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“I liked Fitzies’ game a lot,’’ coach Paul Maurice said of Fitzgerald, who played in just four games with the Panthers since being claimed on waivers from Buffalo in January. “He looked like it was his 50th playoff game. I liked the way he moved, he played well.”

Fitzgerald, 26, has only received a few chances with the Panthers since joining the team but has been ready to go whenever the team has needed him.

If that means switching over to play forward, Fitzgerald was game.

“I was most impressed with Fitzgerald’s game because there was no shyness to what he was doing,” Maurice added on Tuesday. “He was not trying manage, he was out there trying to make plays and win the game. He gave us a lot more than I had reason to expect after not being in the lineup so long. I am very pleased with what he did the other night.”

When the Panthers told him he needed to play in place of Ekblad, he gave the Panthers everything he had.

In the first period, Fitzgerald got off two hits and a shot on goal while playing alongside Josh Mahura.

With Ekblad set to return, Fitzgerald’s playoff run appears to be over.

Until next time he is needed, that is.

“It was fun to get out there, throw the body around a little bit,” Fitzgerald said Tuesday before joining the Panthers on their flight to Boston for Game 5. “We were fighting all season long to get that spot and I just had to be patient. I had to do my job and when that call happens, you have to be ready.

“You can’t make the excuse that you haven’t played. The coaches all worked with me so that when that call came, I was ready. A lot of it was adrenaline, too. I was so pumped up. It was a 3:30 game and I was up at 6. I came here so early because I just couldn’t sit around anymore. I wanted to play.”

Unlike Fitzgerald, Dalpe had been getting plenty of playing time before joining the Panthers prior to the start of the playoffs.

The captain of the Charlotte Checkers, Dalpe was recalled for Game 1 for just the reason he got into Game 4 — in case someone (in this case, Anthony Duclair) got hurt in practice or in warmups and the Panthers needed a replacement forward.

Like Ekblad, Duclair has been cleared to play on Wednesday. According to Maurice, Duclair “he had some pain and didn’t think he could be close to 100 percent” following warmups Sunday and Dalpe was summoned pre-workout.

The original plan was for Dalpe to fly back to Charlotte for Game 1 of its opening round AHL Calder Cup playoff series but those were scrapped.

The Checkers went on to beat the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in three games with Dalpe waiting for his chance with the Panthers.

“It feels like you are in limbo because you’re the captain and are missing games where I have primarily been but I’m not playing up here, either,” Dalpe said. “But you assert yourself into the battle, into the fight and that makes you feel a lot more like part of the group.”

For both players, the chance to help the Panthers in the postseason was a great opportunity.

Again, they will now wait for the next one.

“It had been a while and it was what I remembered being here in the best league in the world,” said Dalpe, who has now played in four NHL playoff games — three coming with Minnesota in 2016.

“The game gets better and faster, believe it or not. It was nice to be able to assert myself into the fight.”

GAME 5 (Boston Leads 3-1)

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