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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Panthers at Lightning, Game 3: Kyle Okposo Returns to Playoffs

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Kyle Okposo, pictured here against Carolina on March 14, will play in his first playoff game since 2016 tonight when the Panthers visit the Tampa Bay Lightning for Game 3. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

TAMPA — For the first time since 2016, Kyle Okposo will lace ‘em up in a playoff game. And it will come as a member of the Florida Panthers, the team he helped knock out of the postseason eight years ago, when they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning for Game 3.

With Ryan Lomberg in ‘quarantine’ and out with an illness, and Sam Bennett out with an upper-body injury, Okposo will get the opportunity he was searching for when he was traded to Florida at the trade deadline.

After eight years as a leader on a struggling Buffalo Sabres team, he finally gets the call and returns to the postseason.

“Nothing else matters other than that shift, that moment, that game. Nothing else matters at all,” Okposo told FHN a few weeks ago.

“I’ve always said it: It’s the most pure form of hockey on the planet. That’s the purest form of the best sport in the world, and that’s all you want to do. I’ve had that itch for a really long time to get back in there. I’m not 27 years old anymore, but I know what kind of impact I can make, and I’m really looking forward to getting that feeling again.”

Florida coach Paul Maurice said Okposo is excited to get in on hockey’s biggest stage.

“He’ll be fired up,’’ Maurice said. “Your appreciation for the game grows as you get older. I don’t think most players, as they get older, don’t get more cynical. They appreciate it. He had this smile that I cannot describe.

“He is very excited about this, he will relish this opportunity. He is a serious pro, a very detailed guy. He will be wired into the game, but he understands that there are not 15 more seasons of playoffs ahead of him, this is something he needs to enjoy.’’

Florida captain Sasha Barkov was making his first playoff appearance in 2016 when Okposo and the Islanders knocked the Panthers out in Game 6 in Brooklyn.

New York lost in the next round to the Lightning and Okposo signed with the Sabres that offseason. He has not been back to the postseason.

“I remember, he was one of those guys you do not want to play against,’’ Barkov said. “The Islanders had a really good team back then, and he was one of their main guys. Really excited for him. Can’t wait to see him on the ice. He has brought that leadership to our group. Just being here is a huge addition for us. We’re lucky to have him here.”

Vladimir Tarasenko plays in his 100th playoff game tonight — third with the Panthers.

“He has been a very good pro for us,’’ Maurice said. “He just loves talking hockey.”

— The starting goalies: Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy.

— Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said all of his players are able to go tonight.

The Lightning are expected to go back to playing seven defensemen and 11 forwards.

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (WC1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1)
PANTHERS LEAD BEST-OF-7 SERIES 2-0
GAME 3
  • When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa 
  • Local TV/National TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida/TBS/HBOMax
  • Radio: 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 — Lightning Favored: Money Line (-115); Puck line (-1.5, +200); Over/Under 6.5 (+110/-135). Series Florida -900
  • First Round (Panthers Lead 1-0) — Game 1: Panthers 3, Lightning 2; Game 2:Florida 3, Tampa Bay 2 OT; Game 3: Thursday at Tampa Bay, 7 (BSF, TBS); Game 4: Saturday at Tampa Bay, 5 (BSF, TBS, TruTV); Game 5*: Monday at Florida, TBA (BSF, TBA); Game 6*: Wednesday at Tampa Bay, TBA (BSF, TBA); Game 7*: Saturday May 4 at Florida, TBA (BSF, TBA). (*) — If necessary
  • 2023-24 Regular Season Series (Panthers Won 2-1) — At Tampa Bay: Panthers 3, Lightning 2 (Dec. 27)Panthers 9, Lightning 2 (Feb. 17). At Florida: Lightning 5, Panthers 3 (March 16).
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Florida leads 77-51-19, 10 ties
  • All-Time Postgame Series: Lightning Leads 2-0 (2021 first-round, 2022 ECS)

PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINES

10 Vladimir Tarasenko // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart

23 Carter Verhaeghe // 15 Anton Lundell // 19 Matthew Tkachuk

27 Eetu Luostarinen // 82 Kevin Stenlund // 17 Evan Rodrigues

8 Kyle Okposo // 18 Steven Lorentz // 21 Nick Cousins

42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad

77 Niko Mikkola //  62 Brandon Montour

91 Oliver Ekman-Larsson // 7 Dmitry Kulikov

72 Sergei Bobrovsky

41 Anthony Stolarz

Scratched: Jonah Gadjovich, Josh Mahura, Toby Bjornfot, Uvis Balinskis, Evan Cormier

Injured: Ryan Lomberg (illness), Sam Bennett (upper-body)

PROJECTED TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING LINES

10 Anthony Duclair // 21 Brayden Point //86 Nikita Kucherov

38 Brandon Hagel // 71 Anthony Cirelli // 91 Steven Stamkos

23 Michael Eyssimont //20 Nicholas Paul // 41 Mitchell Chaffee

64 Tyler Motte // 11 Luke Glendening

77 Victor Hedman // 43 Darren Raddysh

48 Nick Perbix // 81 Erik Cernak

78 Emil Lilleberg // 24 Matt Dumba // 44 Calvin deHaan

88 Andrei Vasilevskiy 

90 Matt Tomkins

Scratched: Austin Watson, Calvin de Haan, Conor Sheary, Max Crozier

Injured: Haydn Fleury (upper body), Jonas Johansson (lower body), Mikhail Sergachev (leg)

Tampa Bay Lightning Lines Courtesy NHL.com

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