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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Panthers Forward Depth a Big Plus Going into Playoffs

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Ryan Lomberg celebrates a goal against the Washington Capitals with Nick Cousins on Feb. 8 in Sunris. (AP Photo/Jim Rassol)

FORT LAUDERDALE — As the playoffs rolled on last summer, the Florida Panthers saw their depth tested more and more.

It was not as deep as they had hoped, and, it cost them in the Stanley Cup Final against Vegas as Eetu Luostarinen and Matthew Tkachuk were both injured.

Strengthening Florida’s depth throughout was something general manager Bill Zito focused on not only during the offseason, but through this one as well.

When it comes to the forwards, this is the deepest team Florida has ever had.

Paul Maurice, as does every coach in the NHL, likes being able to roll four strong forward lines in a game.

Right now, he’s got five of them.

“It’s not a competition anymore; everyone is on the team,” Maurice said. “We’re going to need everyone. If you are getting into your fifth line, that means you have played a long time. We got into five-plus lines last year, but we’re deeper this year at forward on defense. If that situation comes up again, we have a better chance of surviving.”

During the offseason, Zito solidified Florida’s fourth line by bringing in centers Kevin Stenlund and Steven Lorentz, while also adding Jonah Gadjovich.

At the trade deadline, the Panthers acquired Vladimir Tarasenko from Ottawa, and Kyle Okposo from Buffalo.

Although the additions meant less playing time for some players, the competition has made everyone better.

When the Panthers open the playoffs on Sunday afternoon, they will have some pretty good players being scratched.

Nick Cousins, who spent time on the second line last postseason, is now on the fourth.

“It really is the sign of a really good team when you have guys competing and pushing each other,” said Ryan Lomberg, who did not miss a game last season but found himself a healthy scratch numerous times late in this one as Maurice tinkered with the fourth line.

“It is great. Everyone is competitive, but, we all want each other to succeed. It has been important that the role players step up and be the difference in games. Typically the big guys are going to get theirs, so sometimes it comes down to special teams and role guys. We’re locked and loaded. Bill has done a great job of putting us in a position to succeed. Now, it’s up to us.”

Lorentz came to the Panthers from the last-place Sharks and figured he would not be getting as much playing time in Florida as he was used to with San Jose.

But after being scratched for the better part of two months, Lorentz finally got back in and impressed coaches and fans alike for his tenacious play.

He may not play on Sunday, but Lorentz knows to be ready to go when called again.

“Depth wins championships, that’s no secret,” he said. “You look at the playoffs every year and the top lines all but cancel each other out. There are not as any individual efforts; it’s a team game and you really need your bottom-6 and your depth to contribute.

“Look at championship teams, and you have people saying ‘oh, where was he all season?’ Those guys become heroes in a Game 5 in overtime. The little things you do during the regular season build up for that first game of the playoffs and you roll with it. This is an emotional time and a physical game. Guys are going to have bumps and bruises, there will be injuries. You need guys to step up, guys who want to play that physical game.”

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

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (WC1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1)
GAME 1
  • When: Sunday, 12:30 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • Local TV/National TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN/ESPN+
  • 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
  • First Round Schedule — Game 1: Sunday at Florida, 12:30 p.m. (BSF, ESPN); Game 2: Tuesday at Florida, 7:30 (BSF, ESPN2); Game 3: Thursday at Tampa Bay, 7 (BSF, TBS); Game 4:Saturday Ap. 27 at Tampa Bay, 5 (BSF, TBS, TruTV); Game 5*:Monday Ap. 29 at Florida, TBA (BSF, TBA); Game 6*: Wednesday May 1 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)

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