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2024 Stanley Cup Champions

Dmitry Kulikov ‘Came Back’ to Florida Panthers for the Stanley Cup

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Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov lifts the Stanley Cup so his son can kiss it after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SUNRISE — With Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final tied at 1, the puck sat in the empty Florida Panthers goal crease, just waiting for an Edmonton player to put it home and give the Oilers the lead.

Dmitry Kulikov was there to save the day.

As he was falling after taking a hit from Dylan Holloway, Kulikov cleared the puck into the corner and onto the safe haven of Carter Verhaeghe’s stick.

Seconds later, Sam Reinhart ripped a shot from the right circle on the other end to put the Panthers up 2-1 — the goal which ending up winning the Stanley Cup for the Panthers.

“It happened so fast,” Kulikov said. “The puck just came out in front, I was looking at it, I got pushed from behind and I just cleared it out. Then our guy picked it up and we scored.

“Honestly, I just blacked out.”

There are few players as fitting to author one of the most iconic and lasting moments in Panthers history.

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After being the team’s first-round pick in 2009, Kulikov spent seven seasons with the Panthers and was part of their rise from the basement of the NHL to playoff appearances in 2012 and 2016 before he was traded to Buffalo that summer.

Kulikov served as a mentor to the two core members of this Cup-winning team who have been there through it all — Aaron Ekblad and Sasha Barkov –along the way.

After eight years away, Kulikov returned as a free agent following Florida’s loss in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final because he wanted to come home — and to finish what he started building.

“I guess that it was always meant to be that he is the man who comes here and makes the saving play at the end and wins the Cup with the team that drafted him,” Barkov said.

“I was lucky that I got to play with him. He was one of the main guys who pretty much showed me the path here in Florida when I first got here. My first three years, I stayed with him a little bit and obviously spent a lot of time with him speaking the same language. He’s an unbelievable guy and now he is here winning the Cup with us.”

When he was asked what he would say if someone told him that this was how things would play out during the years the Panthers were in the doldrums, Kulikov was confident with his answer.

He believed in this team from Day 1, it happened, and he is the one who made the lasting play that got the job done.

“That someday it was going to happen, yeah,” Kulikov said.”The group of guys that we have here and the fanbase, the organization, and the great job they did. Everything was leading to that. The reason I came back here is because of this.”

For More FHN Coverage of the Stanley Cup Champion Florida Panthers:

UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS
  • Stanley Cup Championship Parade, Fort Lauderdale: Sunday, 11 a.m.
  • NHL Draft, Las Vegas: Friday-Saturday
  • 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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