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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Eetu Luostarinen: Quietly a Huge Piece of the Florida Panthers

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Florida panthers
Eetu Luostarinen, pictured during Game 2 against the Bruins, plays a big role on the Florida Panthers and his absence was noticed in the Stanley Cup Final. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

FORT LAUDERDALE— When the Florida Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Final last year, a reason they came out flat was because they were missing a key piece in their lineup: Eetu Luostarinen.

For the past three seasons, Luostarinen has established himself as one of the team’s most reliable penalty killers.

And his absence with a broken leg was near the top of the list of reasons why Florida’s penalty kill allowed six power-play goals in the 5-game series.

“I thought by the time we got to Vegas, it didn’t matter how many days off we had off,” coach Paul Maurice said. “The Luostarinen broken leg was a really big blow.”

For a team with as much talent as the Panthers had then, it is a bold thing to say about a guy who played in the bottom six.

There is truth to it.

Luostarinen is essential to how Florida’s penalty kill operates.

His quick reaction time, long reach, and knack for picking up on reads in the defensive zone have made him one of the most reliable players on the team.

And he embraces that.

“It’s a confidence boost to hear something like that from your coach,” Luostarinen said. “I try do to my best so he can dress me and put me on the ice in any moment.”

After a fully healthy 82-game season, he is glad to be a part of Florida’s redemption tour.

“With how things ended last year, I think everybody here is still hungry for a win,” Luostarinen said. “And you can see it from the room.”

Luostarinen was a big reason why the Panthers took down the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 1.

On the offensive end, he had two assists in the five-game series, but his most significant contribution was on the kill.

At 5-on-4, the Panthers held Tampa Bay’s top-ranked regular season power play to just two goals on 18 chances.

Luostarinen was key.

He and partner Kevin Stenlund each averaged over two minutes of penalty kill time per game, clocking in a few short seconds behind the duo of Sasha Barkov and Sam Reinhart.

And Luostarinen and Stenlund were especially clutch.

With both players possessing speed and a long reach, they were vital in shutting down passing lanes and keeping the Lightning out of the offensive zone before they could even get set up.

“We just had to know who was on the ice, where they were on the ice, and who was taking the shots,” Luostarinen said. “Just small things like that.”

And both of them showed the instant chemistry they had since the penalty kill started to click in November.

“Luosty and I have played a lot together all season,” Stenlund said. “You get to know your teammates, how they think and react, those sort of things. We connect really well. We help each other. We talk a lot. It’s been a long journey. Hopefully it lasts a little longer.”

With Sam Bennett out of the lineup, Luostarinen also got a chance to play a bigger role at 5-on-5.

In the second half of Florida’s close-out Game 5 victory over the Lightning, Maurice shifted the lines and bumped Luostarinen up to Line 2 next to Anton Lundell and Sam Reinhart.

As they did when they were together in the three-hole last season, they played significant minutes in the defensive zone and ultimately helped put a lid on that potent Tampa Bay offense for good.

With Bennett still on the mend, Maurice practiced with the same lines on Thursday as the Panthers prepared for the second round.

But no matter where he is in the lineup, Luostarinen will embrace and run with that role.

“It was good to be back with Reino and Lundy,” Luostarinen said. “But I think we have excellent depth on this team. Every guy can play with everybody, so I think that’s a big thing going forward.”

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

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1) V. BOSTON (A2)/TORONTO (A3)
*Round 1 Series Tied 3-3; Game 7 Saturday @ Boston
BEST-OF-7 SERIES
GAME 1
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