SUNRISE — After playing back-to-back games against Chicago and Winnipeg, the Florida Panthers have a couple of days off before playing host to Montreal on Thursday. That is just fine with Gus Forsling.
On Saturday night, Forsling took another hard hit during a game — this one from Mark Scheifele into the corner — and barely missed a shift.
“When you see the amount of minutes he gets and type of minutes he plays, those things are bound to happen,” Eric Staal said. “I love his compete level and the way he battles. He is a tremendous player.’’
It seems like in every game Florida plays, Forsling either takes a hit from behind of blocks a hard shot in a compromising spot simply to shake it off and continue on.
Forsling ranks third on the Panthers in blocked shots with 90. Marc Staal leads the team with 100.
”That’s kind of my job,’’ he said with a chuckle. “If you want to be on the penalty kill, you have to do anything to kill the penalty and that means paying the price by putting your body on the line. That is what it takes. We have done a great job of that. You want to block that shot for the guys and for Bob. You want to do it to win the game.”
According to coach Paul Maurice, the reason Forsling left Florida’s game against Minnesota in late January was that his finger was severely cut.
After missing a big chunk of the game so that his finger — which still looks a little raw — could be stitched up, Forsling scored what was the game-winning goal against the Wild in a 5-3 win.
“He sliced it to the bone and they were certain he got tendon,” Maurice said on Saturday night. “He did not so they stitched him up, he came back and scored the game-winner.
“That’s a tough bird. He is not laying on the ice. Some guys go down, get stretchered and miraculously return. He gets legitimate injuries and fights through.”
A few days later, Forsling left another game against the Kings in which he slammed into the boards feet-first and it appeared he seriously injured his right leg midway through the second period.
Yet when the third period started, there was Forsling as if nothing had happened.
”I didn’t think he was coming back,” Maurice said then. ”He is one tough cookie for the things that he’s gone down with here in the last two weeks and he surprised us by coming out on the bench. The concern is that he is playing on adrenaline.”
Forsling said on Monday that the finger was not cut from a skate blade but from the pressure of slamming his hand into the goal cage at full speed.
The play came midway through the second when Forsling picked off an errant pass while killing a penalty. He took off through the zone for the shorthanded chance.
Just as he was approaching the net, Forsling was tripped up and he hurdled through the air and crashed with all of his weight into the cage — his hand taking the brunt of the hit.
Only he did not immediately come off the ice. Despite blood pooling in his glove, Forsling raced back and finished the penalty kill.
”It split open either when I hit the ice or hit the post,’’ Forsling said. “It was sliced open from the pressure, like slamming your hand in a car door. They stitched it up, taped it up and I was back out there.’’
”Yes,” Forsling said. “Very painful.”
Forsling could be seen having trouble handling his stick when he went back up into the defensive zone and, when the puck was not around him, he dropped that hand off.
When the play was over, he was seen gingerly taking off the glove and going straight to the bench where he showed the damage to the athletic training staff.
Forsling was then taken to the room where he would be stitched up, taped up before heading back to the ice.
Tough bird, indeed.
“You just have to figure out a way to get past it because we have games every day,” said Forsling, showing off the still-healing, blistered-looking skin.
“We have great guys on our medical staff and that helps a lot, actually. I have a couple bumps and bruises but that’s OK. It’s part of the job. If you’re going to battle every day, you’re going to get those. I think everyone does. This is a battle.”
It is that kind of hard-nosed play which makes Forsling so appreciated among his teammates.
So, too, is the road he took to becoming a bonafide top-pairing defenseman in the NHL.
In 2021, Forsling was waived by the Carolina Hurricanes at the end of training camp but the Panthers — and his former Chicago Blackhawks coach, Joel Quenneville — claimed him.
As soon as he learned he was going to the Panthers, Forsling packed up his stuff in Raleigh, stuffed it in his SUV and immediately headed south.
Forsling was at the Panthers’ practice the next morning a little road weary but ready to go.
While Forsling started the 2021 season on Florida’s third defensive pairing, he quickly moved into the top-4 and when Aaron Ekblad was hurt later in that season, was paired with MacKenzie Weegar on the top pairing.
Forsling has replaced Weegar alongside Ekblad in this one.
“He has been phenomenal,” Eric Staal said. “A couple of teams dropped the ball with the type of player he has become. He has been huge for us all season long. It has been fun to watch him progress and I think there is a lot more there as he continues to grow.
“He can play both sides of the puck, has instincts on the power play, blocks shots and is great with the stick. His skating is world-class. He has all the attributes to what make a great defenseman in this game.”
And, on Monday morning, he was back on the ice for a full workout. This after the Scheifele hit which sparked a full-on brawl between the two teams as Forsling slowly made his way to the bench.
The Panthers would have given him the day off, for sure, had he asked.
He did not ask.
“I came in fresh today,’’ Forsling said. “It is a lot of fun coming in every day knowing you are going to go head-to-head with the best players in the world.
“It is humbling. Every day I am humble and just try to work hard, especially with the cardio in the summer to play those big minutes. ”
PANTHERS ON DECK
MONTREAL CANADIENS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 3-1
- This season (Florida leads 2-0): Panthers 7, Canadiens 2 (Dec. 29); Panthers 6, Canadiens 2 (Jan. 19)
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 53-38-11, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: New Jersey Devils at Florida, Saturday, 5 p.m.