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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Kyle Okposo, Florida Panthers Fourth Line Revel in Playoff Success



Florida panthers
Boston Bruins center John Beecher battles Florida’s Kyle Okposo for the puck with Steven Lorentz in the background during the second period of Game 2 on Wednesday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

FORT LAUDERDALE — The Florida Panthers have a lot of high-profile talent, but coach Paul Maurice admits his team’s most “consistent” has been its fourth.

The trio of Kyle Okposo, Steven Lorentz, and Nick Cousins were instrumental in keeping the Panthers going in an uneven first period Wednesday.

With the Bruins hemming the Panthers in and keeping Florida’s offense from being able to do much of anything, the fourth line sprung into action and was effective every time they were on the ice.

The three combined for 13 hits — six from Okposo — in about 11 minutes of ice time on average between them.

“They were really good last night, and I thought they were really good the night before,’’ Maurice said. “It was not a one-nighter. They scored two there in Tampa Bay and won us a game. They have been quietly very good.”

For the second time in these playoffs, Lorentz scored a big goal.

Lorentz spent significant portions of January, February, and March as a healthy scratch but has been a big part of Florida’s success thus far in the postseason.

He scored what turned out to be the game-winner in Game 3 at Tampa.

On Wednesday, he deflected a point shot from Brandon Montour past Jeremy Swayman to tie the game at 1 in the second period.

“It’s a playoff goal, it’s a pretty cool feeling,’’ Lorentz said. “I celebrated pretty good and got the ball rolling for the boys. We just kept rolling after that. … We feel good as a line, are comfortable in those situations. It’s nice that the coaching staff puts the faith in us to be out there, not just against their fourth line but other ones as well. We’re out there in the right spots and those are easy guys to play with.”

Florida has been running this trio since Game 3 when Ryan Lomberg was ill and Sam Bennett got hurt.

It may not last, with Bennett potentially returning as early as tonight.

If Bennett were to play, Lorentz may be the odd man out — at least for now.

He has certainly opened some eyes.

“Steven Lorentz fought hard this year. Not to get himself out of the doghouse, he was in the abyss with whatever number of guys were ahead of him,’’ Maurice said. “Good for him.’’

Okposo, who went eight years without being in the playoffs, has been playing like a man on a mission this postseason.

It is going to be very hard to take him out of this lineup — and it would be a surprise if he was scratched upon Bennett’s return.

In game 2, Okposo had six hits, blocked a couple of shots, and was all over the ice in the first period.

He certainly seems to be enjoying himself.

“It was a lot of fun, that one felt like a playoff game,” Okposo said. “It just hit different. There is not many things in this world that give you that feeling, that pure dopamine release in your brain. Playoff hockey is of them.’’

Okposo had, perhaps, one of the most real media sessions of this postseason Thursday, explaining just how much being in the playoffs means to him.

Forgive the 36-year-old former captain of the Buffalo Sabres if he is taking the time to look around a little more and absorb everything from this playoff experience.

This may just be his last one.

“I know I am not going to be able to do this forever,’’ Okposo said. “I know that I am nearing the end of my road. But when you get into a game like that, and you get the atmosphere, you start to feel it. You get some jump, some legs. You’re finishing checks and creating chances. It is just a phenomenal feeling.

“I am so proud to be part of this group, be able to add to the group and it has been phenomenal being here. You got to enjoy it. I am here to prepare, here to play. But looking around at the game, how tight it is … I find myself smiling on the bench at times. There’s nothing quite like playoff hockey.’’

As for Cousins, well, no one has more fun playing hockey than Nick Cousins—something capsulated in his leaping celebration when Sasha Barkov made it 2-1 midway through the second period.

As he did last season, Cousins has moved up and down the lineup, but seems to be very effective with this fourth line.

“We know what our job is,’’ Okposo said. “It is to be heavy on the forecheck, doing the little things right. Not be too risky with the decision making. But we are getting some chemistry on our line and have started to make a few more plays in the offensive zone, wear the other guys down.’’

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