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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Panthers: Oliver Ekman-Larsson Thrilled to be Back in Playoffs

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Oliver Ekman-Larsson celebrates his overtime goal with Evan Rodrigues as the Florida Panthers beat the New York Islanders 3-2 earlier this season at Belmont Park. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

BOSTON — Florida Panthers defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has only played beyond the first round of the playoffs twice in his NHL career coming into this season.

He is now getting his first chance to experience playoff hockey since the Arizona Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators in the 2020 COVID bubble.

Ekman-Larsson had a clear goal to win, having not made the playoffs since then, and he is starting to reap the benefits of it now.

“It’s been unreal,” he said. “Being in the playoffs and having a chance to win it, I think that’s something very special and that’s why I wanted to come here.

“I think I’ve talked about it so many times over the course of the year, but it’s a special group that we have here and it seems like what they went through last year kind of helped us this season, so I’m just trying to watch and learn and then trying to play my game and pick up on the stuff that Sasha Barkov, Matthew Tkachuk, Aaron Ekblad, and Gus Forsling and all of those guys that are driving the bus here are doing.”

In the time since Ekman-Larsson played his last postseason appearance, he played 259 regular season games, was both traded to and bought out by the Vancouver Canucks and suffered two major lower-body injuries which kept him from reaching his full potential.

After finally getting a fully-healthy offseason following his exit from Vancouver and hitting his best marks in goals (9) and points (32) since that last playoff appearance four years ago, he has been an impact player in the playoffs.

In nine games, the 32-year-old defenseman has a goal and three points with 26 hits while averaging 15:18 of time-on-ice per game.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Ekman-Larsson said.

“Regular season is one thing, and it’s hard to explain why it’s like that, but when you go into the playoffs it’s a whole different game. It’s a lot of hitting and it’s a lot faster. Every play counts and I think it’s been unreal. I kind of like those games too and I get in there a little in battles, so it’s been a lot of fun.”

The payoff has been huge for Ekman-Larsson, who was named the team’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy by the PHWA’s Florida chapter.

“Playoff hockey is much more fun, it’s much more intense and it’s the payoff after a good year,” coach Paul Maurice said.

“For a player who had the injuries that he did that he couldn’t play the game the way he wanted to play to be able to come back and be such an important part is great for him.”

The re-adjustment to playoff hockey needed to be quick for Ekman-Larsson, too.

The Panthers have played perhaps their two biggest rivals in their first two playoff series in the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins.

Both series have escalated to become very physical and very intense very quickly and it took no time for him to get into it.

“I think it was pretty easy for me,” Ekman-Larsson said. “You hear the guys talk in the locker room and they get you up to speed a little bit on everything, so it wasn’t hard at all.

“You are just super excited to be in the playoffs again, and going back to my past two seasons, i think you’re just excited to be playing hockey, be on a good team and have a chance to win.

He has been a big reason why the Panthers played a strong enough defensive game to vanquish the Lightning in five games and now have the Bruins on the ropes with a 3-1 lead in a series where Boston has not been able to generate much offensively.

“It’s been unreal,” Ekman-Larsson said. “But we’re not done yet.”

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1) V. BOSTON BRUINS (ATL2)
FLORIDA LEADS BEST-OF-7 SERIES 3-1
GAME 5

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