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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Critical of Nick Cousins? The Florida Panthers Got His Back

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Nick cousins
Brandon Montour, top left, wears a special playoff t-shirt honoring teammate Nick Cousins — who played a big role in Florida’s 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night. // Photos courtesy @FlaPanthers, @GeorgeRichards, AP Chris O'Meara

TAMPA — Brandon Montour made a statement and defended his good friend and Florida Panthers teammate Nick Cousins after their Game 3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

Montour rocked a red shirt featuring a collage of photos featuring Cousins.

In a season in which Cousins took a lot of heat from fans and media alike, Montour wanted to set the record straight.

“I’m just paying my respects to a good friend of mine,” Montour said when asked about the red shirt.

“I think the media and everyone is giving him a little bit of heat this year and we have fun with it. But it’s a little funny thing that we do in the locker room and I’m just paying my respects to a good player and a good guy.”

A few players in the locker room had the shirts made as a joke, but Cousins had no idea Montour would wear it to the podium for his postgame media conference after scoring in Florida’s 5-3 win over the Lightning.

“I didn’t know he was going to wear it for the press conference,” Cousins told Florida Hockey Now. “We got those shirts made for a couple of us. It’s all good humor.

“I gotta give him a lot of credit for doing that. It means a lot to me. Obviously a great friend and it was nice of him to get up there and support me.”

The heat surrounding Cousins picked up after a pair of hits on Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Erik Gudbranson and then-Arizona Coyotes forward Jason Zucker.

Both times, the player he hit retaliated and took a 5-minute major.

The second time, against Zucker in Tempe, Cousins was concussed.

It was after that second incident when Kevin Bieksa went on a rant about him on Hockey Night in Canada calling Cousins “dirty” and “a rat.”

“We love that guy,” coach Paul Maurice said of Cousins. “And it was hurtful earlier in the year for everybody when they went after him in the media a little bit for the way he plays. I just don’t see it.

“I don’t think Nick has ever had more than 41 penalty minutes [in a season] so I think it was overkill, to say the least.”

Cousins did hit his career high in penalty minutes this season at 61.

Prior to that, his highest total was 41 in 52 games with the Nashville Predators in 2020-21.

Does he think that reputation he has built is unfair?

“For sure,” Cousins said. “I said this before, but I’ve never been suspended, so I have a pretty clean record.

“My highest penalty minutes is 44 or whatever. I don’t even know what it is. But I think the reputation is unfair, for sure. I don’t view myself as a dirty player, maybe I had a couple of reckless hits this year, but I don’t think the reputation is warranted at all.”

His teammates have recognized that from Day 1.

They dropped the gloves multiple times in his honor when the Panthers took on the Coyotes in Sunrise a few weeks after Zucker took him out of the lineup.

Nick Cousins ‘Dirty?’ Florida Panthers Disagree with Narrative

They also backed him up every chance they got with their words and actions afterward.

“It’s nice to know that my teammates have my back,” Cousins said. “I mean, obviously, you saw that there when we played Zucker when he was in Arizona. The boys had my back there and it means a lot to me. Through it all, that’s what’s most important to me and the only thing that matters to me.”

And for Cousins, there is no one more fitting than Montour

After all, they are partners in crime when it comes to comedy in the locker room.

“Montour and Cousins have a bit of a routine going,” Maurice said. “They’ve got nicknames, they’re calling everybody names. It’s just good. It’s funny.

“At the end of the day, it’s really funny and it’s healthy for your team because when there’s tension — and in pro sports, there’s always tension — the right joke at the right time loosens the guys up. It does matter.”

From the day they met, that sense of humor sparked a lasting friendship.

“We have similar personalities,” Cousins said. “I think we both like to keep it loose, especially before the game, around the rink and around the guys. But at the same time, once the game starts we’re pretty serious and all business. But I mean, if you’re having fun and working hard, that’s all that matters.

“We’ve kind of clicked right away when we first met. We’re two guys with a good sense of humor who don’t take themselves too seriously.”

Even after a Game 4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, Cousins still had room for one more joke.

“You know who would look good in that shirt?” Cousins asked rhetorically.

“Kevin Bieksa.”

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

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (WC1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1)
PANTHERS LEAD BEST-OF-7 SERIES 3-1
GAME 5

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