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2024 Stanley Cup Final

Ekman-Larsson Grateful for Chance at the Cup with Florida Panthers



Florida panthers
Florida Panthers defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson will play in his first Stanley Cup Final tonight in Game 1 against the Edmonton Oilers. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

SUNRISE — For 32-year-old Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Florida Panthers, playing in a Stanley Cup Final is a dream he thought would never happen.

He is enjoying every moment.

In his 13 prior seasons with Arizona and Vancouver, his teams made the playoffs exactly once.

The closest Ekman-Larsson ever came to a Final was with the 2011-12 edition of the Phoenix Coyotes, which lost the Western Conference Final to the Stanley Cup-bound Los Angeles Kings.

After signing a lucrative eight-year contract extension with Arizona starting with the 2019-20 season, he ultimately waived his no-movement clause and was traded to Vancouver for the 2021-22 season.

His career appeared to be heading straight downhill following the trade.

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After two injury-filled subpar seasons, the Canucks bought out the remaining four years of his contract.

Bill Zito and his staff of scouts came to the rescue.

Recognizing that the Panthers needed depth on defense and that OEL would come at a bargain price, Zito took a limited risk by signing him to a one-year deal.

As the scholars have said, the rest is history. Ekman-Larsson played 80 games and had his most productive season in five years. 

Together with another resurrected veteran, Dmitry Kulikov, they formed a year-long third defense pairing.

OEL couldn’t be happier.

“As a kid,” he said of Stanley Cup glory, “you always dream about it.”

He preferred to “stay in the moment” and not dwell on past frustrations.

“I put in a lot of work to get to this point and be in this league,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the league for a long time and get this opportunity. 

“It means the world for myself and my family. So, it’s special.”

As many of his teammates have also stated, the Panthers are a close-knit group that supports one another. 

The experience to date has been pleasant.

“When I first got here, everybody was super-friendly,” he said. “They brought me in right away, and I don’t think it matters if you’re playing for 30 minutes or five minutes. I think everybody knows that they’re available for the team and feel the same way.

“That’s why I love this team. It’s been a blast all year. And how hard we have worked all year but at the same time tomanage to have fun with it.”

He and his defense partner, Kulikov, have mutual respect and great chemistry. 

They genuinely enjoy playing together.

“He’s very easy to play with,” Ekman-Larsson said. “He’s good with the puck. He defends well. He gets up the ice to make plays…I feed off  him, and I feel like he’s feeding off me at times, too. It’s a good fit for us.”

Kulikov feels the same way about his partner.

“It’s been great,” he said. “We both are veteran guys who played a lot of games but haven’t really been in a position to win it. So we cherish every moment of it, and you know, I’m sure he feels the same way.

“It’s been great playing with him all season. We work well together. You know, we support each other really well on the ice. We have a chemistry off the ice, too.”

Both OEL and Kulikov are veterans on one-year deals. 

They know the business side of hockey and what a cap crunch means. 

They also know they may never have this opportunity again.

Seize the day.

For More FHN Coverage of the Florida Panthers:

  • When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • National TV: ABC
  • Streaming: ESPN+/Hulu
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Local Betting Odds — Panthers Favored: Money Line (-145); Puck line (-1.5, +165); Over/Under 5.5 (-120/-110). Series Panthers -150
  • Series Schedule, All Games 8 p.m. on ABC — Game 1:Edmonton at Florida, Saturday; Game 2: Edmonton at Florida, Monday; Game 3: Florida at Edmonton, Thursday; Game 4: Florida at Edmonton, Saturday June 15; Game 5*: Edmonton at Florida, Tuesday June 18; Game 6*: Florida at Edmonton, Friday June 21; Game 7*: Edmonton at Florida, Monday June 24. (*) – If Necessary
  • How They Got Here — Florida: d. Tampa Bay 4-1, Boston 4-2, New York Rangers 4-2; Edmonton: d. Los Angeles 4-1, Vancouver 4-3, Dallas 4-2.
  • This Season (Florida Won 2-0) — At Florida: Panthers 5, Oilers 3 (Nov. 20). At Edmonton: Panthers 5, Oilers 2 (Dec. 17).
  • Last Season: Edmonton Won 2-0
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Oilers lead 23-16-0, 3 ties
  • Postseason History: First Meeting

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