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Dmitry Kulikov Happy to Hit Milestone Game with the Florida Panthers

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Top: Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov in the 2023-24 home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs (Roger Lee Photographer, 561-866-2000); Bottom: Kulikov, playing in his 11th NHL game, on Oct. 30, 2009, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

After playing for eight teams over the course of his NHL career, one would think Dmitry Kulikov would adjust quickly to a new environment.

Especially when he signed on with the team he got his start with — and spent the most time with.

On Monday night, the 33-year-old defenseman played his 900th NHL game with the same team he played his first one with way back in 2009.

Kulikov made his NHL debut on Oct. 2, 2009, when the Florida Panthers opened their season against the Blackhawks in Helsinki, Finland.

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In 2016, the Panthers traded Kulikov to Buffalo setting off a chain of events which would see him play for the Sabres, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils, Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins before returning back where it all began.

“I have had a chance to reflect and think about playing 900 games,” said Kulikov, who signed a one-year, $1-million contract with the Panthers on July 1.

“It has been a lot of games and I have had a lot of good teammates and a lot of good memories. If you get to 900 games, you did not do it without help from your family, the support of your friends, the coaching staff, the medical guys, the equipment guys.”

Kulikov, who has played 488 of those 900 NHL games with the Panthers, had one of his best games of the season on Monday.

Not only did he make three shot attempts on the offensive side, but he was credited with two blocked shots and forced a turnover.

Those numbers feel a bit low. Kulikov was all over the ice, playing 21 shifts — and led the team by playing 4:20 shorthanded.

Coach Paul Maurice, who had Kulikov for parts of three seasons in Winnipeg, has been impressed with his play throughout this season.

Kulikov, as Maurice noted, hurt his back during his lone season with the Sabres following the draft-day trade for Mark Pysyk. He never really healed up.

“We never saw this Dmitry Kulikov,” Maurice said last month. “He looks like he is getting younger.”

Said Kulikov: “I kept telling Paul, ‘you haven’t seen me healthy.’ I had some injuries, had some streaks with injuries and it gets hard to get back into the lineup. I may be 33, but I feel better than I did at 27. It’s good. Not to take away from anything, but I have worked hard to stay in good shape and try to be healthy.”

Dmitry Kulikov: ‘I Never Wanted to Leave’ the Florida Panthers

Happy to be back home in South Florida where he and his family lived during their offseason, Kulikov has slid right into the team’s bottom defensive pairing and has been hard to take off the ice.

“This is an interesting guy because he plays a harder game every year,” Maurice said on Monday afternoon. “When we had him in Winnipeg, he was coming off a really tough back injury that he suffered through in Buffalo. The player we have here is markedly better than the player I had in Winnipeg because he just had not healed yet.

“I was surprised by that (900) number; I would have thought 700 because he has been injured a bit. This is a tough guy. What I think is that he is the best pro version of himself because he works hard at getting better.”

When Florida got Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour back from injury as it did in November, it was thought Kulikov could find his playing time diminished.

He has been a healthy scratch in a couple of games so Uvis Balinkis could get back in, but Kulikov has returned and was back with Oliver Ekman-Larsson against the Flames.

Kulikov, in speaking with Florida Hockey Now last month, said he feels comfortable not only being back with the Panthers but in playing their style of game.

“The situation here is favorable to my game,” he said. “The style this team plays compliments my game. I am a fast skater and all this team wants to do is be fast all over the ice. We all just work real well together.”

As far as being back in South Florida, Kulikov said while there was some familiarity here, “this is still a new team to me.”

Only he did not have to move once the season started.

“Off the ice, nothing changed for us,” he said. “The setup we had remained. We did not have to worry about moving the family and there was a lot less stress. That is a big part of what is going on here as well.”

ON DECK

ST. LOUIS BLUES @ FLORIDA PANTHERS 

  • When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • This Season — At Florida: Thursday. At St. Louis: Jan. 9.
  • Last Season: Blues won 2-0
  • All-time Regular Season Series: St. Louis leads 26-12-1, 3 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday vs. Vegas, 3 p.m.

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