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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Panthers v. Rangers, Game 1: Stenlund a Constant for Florida

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Florida Panthers center Kevin Stenlund celebrates with Steven Lorentz and Uvis Balinskis after scoring against the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 14. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

NEW YORK — The Florida Panthers have tried out a few different combinations on the fourth line, but Kevin Stenlund remains a constant and will be centering it again tonight for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers.

Stenlund has been a stabilizing force for the Panthers at both 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill, silently becoming a key piece to the puzzle that has brought them to their second consecutive Eastern Conference final.

No matter who is on his wing, the 6-foot-5 center knows what he needs to do to help the team win.

“It’s obviously different, but we all have the same mindset to be hard on pucks, forecheck and skate well,” Stenlund said. “Nothing really changes with me, just different guys.”

When the Panthers open up against the Rangers tonight, the gritty, hard-checking Nick Cousins and Ryan Lomberg will be on his wings for the second consecutive game.

Coach Paul Maurice opted for the more physical line ahead of his team’s series-clinching Game 6 win over the Boston Bruins after rolling with Steven Lorentz and Kyle Okposo on that line since Sam Bennett returned from a hand injury in Game 3 of the series.

As a career fourth-liner, Stenlund has gotten used to a rotating cast of linemates, and Maurice knows that.

“I think you’ll find that all fourth-line players, especially fourth-line centermen, are very used to it because you’re always pulling from that line during injuries,” he said. “So, two new guys come in and let’s go. They’re all part of it.

“And what’s good for us is that we have some speed and size on each side of one pair and then we have some experience and some hands on another set. Kevin’s spent his entire career coming to the rink and finding out that he has a new winger every fifth day, so he’s handled it well.”

With all of the other pieces of the fourth line competing for spots, Stenlund has earned the right to be the consistent piece of it.

After his arrival this offseason, Stenlund has helped the Panthers improve their postseason penalty kill percentage from a putrid 70.4 percent to 86.1 percent.

It righted the ship on one of the biggest flaws from last year’s Cup Final-losing team which Bill Zito vehemently sought to address in the offseason.

“He’s crucial for the fourth line for sure,” Lomberg said. “Defensively, he’s so good. He’s had such a big role on that PK and he’s earned the right to be steady and that’s what he is. He’s great on draws, he works hard, he can move out there, he can make plays and he’s just a staple.”

GAME NOTES

The starting goalies tonight are no surprise: Sergei Bobrovsky goes for the Panthers with Igor Shesterkin in net for the Rangers.

— Bennett did not take part in the morning skate Wednesday but will center the third line tonight.

— New York defenseman Ryan Lindgren did not practice the past couple of days but is expected to play tonight.

Filip Chytil returned for Game 3 against Carolina after being out since November with a suspected concussion; he did not play in the final three games of that series, however. He is expected to play tonight.

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1) V. NEW YORK RANGERS (MET1)
GAME 1
  • When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
  • National TV: ESPN
  • Streaming: ESPN+/Hulu
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Local Betting Odds — Even: Money Line (-110/-110); Puck line (Rangers -1.5, +220); Over/Under 5.5 (-110/-110). Series Florida -150
  • Series Schedule — Game 1: Panthers at Rangers, Wednesday 8 (ESPN); Game 2: Panthers at Rangers, Friday 8 (ESPN); Game 3:Rangers at Panthers, Sunday 3 (ABC); Game 4: Rangers at Panthers, Tuesday 8 (ESPN): Game 5*: Panthers at Rangers, Thursday May 30, 8 (ESPN); Game 6*: Rangers at Panthers, Saturday June 1, 8 (ABC); Game 7*: Panthers at Rangers, Monday June 3, 8 (ESPN). (*) — If Necessary.
  • How They Got Here: Florida d. Tampa Bay 4-1, Boston 4-2; Rangers d. Washington 4-0, Carolina 4-2.
  • Last Season vs. Rangers — Regular Season: Rangers won 3-0
  • This Season (Panthers Won 2-1) — At Florida: Panthers 4 Rangers 3 (Dec. 29). At MSG: Panthers 4, Rangers 2 (March 4); Rangers 4, Panthers 3 OT (March 23).
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Rangers lead 61-34-8, 6 ties
  • Postseason History: Rangers Lead 1-0 (1997 1st)

PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS (0-0) LINES

10 Vladimir Tarasenko // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart

23 Carter Verhaeghe // 15 Anton Lundell // 19 Matthew Tkachuk

23 Eetu Luostarinen // 9 Sam Bennett // 17 Evan Rodrigues

21 Nick Cousins // 82 Kevin Stenlund // 94 Ryan Lomberg

42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad

77 Niko Mikkola //  62 Brandon Montour

91 Oliver Ekman-Larsson // 7 Dmitry Kulikov

72 Sergei Bobrovsky

41 Anthony Stolarz

Scratched: Kyle Okposo, Steven Lorentz, Tobias Bjornfot, Uvis Balinskis, Josh Mahura, Jonah Gadjovich, Spencer Knight, Rasmus Asplund, Mike Benning, Magnus Hellberg, Matt Kiersted, Will Lockwood, Mackie Samoskevich, Justin Sourdif, Patrick Giles

PROJECTED NEW YORK RANGERS (0-0) LINES

20 Chris Kreider // 93 Mika Zibanejad // 96 Jack Roslovic

10 Artemi Panarin // 16 Vincent Trocheck // 13 Alexis Lafreniere

72 Filip Chytil // 91 Alex Wennberg // 24 Kaapo Kakko

50 Will Cuylle // 21 Barclays Goodrow // 26 Jimmy Vesey

55 Ryan Lindgren // 23 Adam Fox

79 K’Andre Miller // 8 Jacob Trouba

56 Erik Gustafsson // 4 Braden Schneider

31 Igor Shesterkin

30 Jonathan Quick

Scratched: Zac Jones, Chad Ruhwedel, Jonny Brodzinski, Adam Edstrom, Matt Rempe, Blake Wheeler

Injured: None

New York Rangers Lines Courtesy NHL.Com

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