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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Nick Cousins the Latest Odd Man Out for Deep Florida Panthers

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Nick Cousins celebrates Steven Lorentz’s eventual game-winning goal against the host Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 on April 25. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

As deep as the Florida Panthers are, not everyone can play. Nick Cousins was the latest to join the band of healthy scratches for Game 3 against the Boston Bruins on Friday night.

Cousins, who played in every game he was healthy for the Panthers this season, was the odd man out Friday night upon the return of Sam Bennett.

Paul Maurice had talked about what a tough decision he had to make when Bennett returned.

“I worry about taking a player like Nick out because of the impact that has on the room because he is so popular,’’ Maurice said following Florida’s 6-2 win on Friday night.

“I agonized over it because everyone loves this guy. I do too. He has a great personality. There are things that weigh on you; he is in a contract year. He is making a sacrifice for the team. It was not easy.”

Cousins is not the first player having a solid postseason to be bumped from the lineup and, barring injury, probably will not be the last.

As Maurice said Friday morning, “it’s going to be a problem, there’s no easy answer. … I am going to be taking a player out of the lineup who does not deserve to be out of the lineup. But Sam Bennett is not watching games. If he is ready to play, he is going to play.’’

The first player to slip out of the lineup was Jonah Gadjovich; he has yet to play in the playoffs game after only getting in four games in the regular season’s final month.

Ryan Lomberg was pulled for Game 2 against the Lightning after he fell so ill that the Panthers did not want him to travel on the team charter to Tampa.

Lomberg, despite the intangibles he brings to the Panthers, has not played since Game 1 against the Lightning.

With how Florida’s fourth line clicked with Steven Lorentz, Cousins, and Kyle Okposo, Maurice has been rightfully reticent to make changes.

Bennett coming back, obviously, meant there would be a change. Kevin Stenlund moved back to play on the fourth line as center.

“I grabbed all three of them on the ice,” Maurice said of his fourth line. “I did not tell them who was out, but I said, ‘if Sam is in tonight, and I think he is’ … I told them the truth, told them how unfair it was. I wanted to talk to my trainer first to make sure [Bennett] was good to go. It was tough, it was a tough call.”

The lineup could change today for Game 4 against the Bruins after Bennett looked to be in midseason form Friday night.

Maurice said one reason Lorentz stayed in—aside from scoring a pair of goals in these playoffs after getting one in 38 regular-season games—was that he could fill in at center if Bennett was not 100 percent.

If Bennett was not as strong as the Panthers hoped, Lorentz could have soaked up some shifts at center shifts that Cousins could not.

“The real decider was [Lorentz] is a center iceman,” Maurice said Friday. “If Sam Bennett comes in, and he is fine to play, but his game is not right … he missed games, so you don’t know what you’re going to get. What I needed is a center. Okposo is built for this series specifically; he is heavy, he is smart, he can get on the walls. He threw a huge hit in Game 2 on the game-winning goal. Stenlund’s last three games have been fantastic.”

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

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1) V. BOSTON BRUINS (ATL2)
FLORIDA LEADS BEST-OF-7 SERIES TIED 2-1
GAME 4 

 

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