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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Ekblad Bounces Back, Helps Shut Down Bruins with Panthers



Florida panthers
Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, pictured here after scoring in Detroit last season, has had strong games after a rough one in Game 1 against the Boston Bruins. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

BOSTON — After a Game 1 he wishes he could forget, Aaron Ekblad is back to being one of the most reliable forces on the Florida Panthers.

The star defenseman made some big mistakes that directly turned into goals in the opening loss to the Boston Bruins, and instead of dwelling on them, he learned from them and immediately came back better in Games 2 and 3.

“So the first game happens. His game is not good, but we’re going to deal with it. We’re going to deal with the video,” coach Paul Maurice said. “He’s on it. But he’s not very happy with me in the morning skate the next day.

“I was not unkind; I was honest. I wasn’t trying to make a point but he’s still proud of that. But then he plays a hell of a game, so I give him a shot on the shoulder with two or three minutes left and I can’t use the words that I used but I said ‘That was pretty good.’

“I can’t use the words he used, but he said ‘What did you expect?’

“Good for him. God I like that. His last two games, he played like a leader. He didn’t like his game, he came to the rink with a snarl and he’s been good for us.”

In Games 2 and 3, Ekblad and Gus Forsling, his trusty defense partner, were not on the ice together for a goal-against at 5-on-5.

Both of them ranked near the top of both games in scoring chance suppression, shot suppression and helped keep the pressure in Boston’s offensive end.

“Obviously we had a tough start there,” Forsling said. “We had some unlucky bounces and that’s how it is sometimes, you can’t have all of the bounces every time but I think we really stuck together, watched a lot of video, talked and I think we came back strong.

“We’ve been playing for a long time together, so we know how we want to play and where the other guy is all the time,” Forsling said. “We have a great communication too.”

The two have gained a reputation as a shutdown pairing and continued doing just that in Games 2 and 3.

“It’s playoffs,” Brandon Montour said. “It’s one of those where you might not like a game that you have and when those games are over, you wash it and I think he did a good job of that.

“I think those last two games really showed defensively how sound he is, and we’re a better team when Aaron is on the ice. I’m happy that he’s turned it around pretty quickly there. I didn’t like his one game, but I think our whole team and himself liked his last two, so we’ll build on that.”

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