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2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Rising Star: Eetu Luostarinen A Game 6 Hero for Florida Panthers

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Florida Panthers forward Eetu Luostarinen scored the game-winning goal in Game 6 on Friday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Time and time again, Eetu Luostarinen has continued to step up for the Florida Panthers.

Throughout his breakout 2022-23 season, Luostarinen has done just about everything to help his team win.

He has jumped up and down the lineup, moved back and forth between playing center and the wing and logged heavy minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill.

The utility he provides to the lineup allows him to do all of that and more.

Being used in bigger situations gave him a big boost in confidence and it showed tenfold as time was winding down in a crucial Game 6 against the Boston Bruins.

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The 25-year-old forward picked up the wonky bounce of a pass breakup from Brandon Montour and skated the puck right to the top of the left face-off circle. And he fired a wicked wrist shot.

With 5:38 to go in regulation, Luostarinen just beat Linus Ullmark above his blocker and gave the Panthers a lead they held onto to force a Game 7.

“I think that was the biggest goal of my career so far,” Luostarinen said.

With the style of game he plays, it is unlikely that will be the last big goal he scores.

Luostarinen has made his living playing a game that thrives in a playoff atmosphere.

He broke into the Florida lineup in 2020-21 as a fourth-line, penalty-killing center and used those tough minutes to mold his game when he was asked to play up in the lineup.

The result? A winger who can win crucial battles on the boards and force turnovers from the point which turn into turnovers, all while being a viable option to fill in down the middle when needed.

His development was apparent nearly doubled his career highs in goals (17) and points (43) in the regular season and he is continuing to do so in the postseason.

He has two goals and four points through the first six games of the 2023 playoffs, including two points in the all important Game 6.

“We are going to need that,” coach Paul Maurice said going into Sunday’s Game 7.

“It’s not going to be a coast to coast play, it’s too hard of a game. I think it’s going to be a guy who is so determined to get the puck to the net who will make the difference.”

Luostarinen fits the mold of someone who could come out as the hero again in a winner-take-all game.

He, like the rest of this Panthers team that squeaked into the postseason, grew through a lot of ups-and-downs in a year full of turmoil.

But through it, he was one of the most consistent players on the team because of the mold his game took on.

His defensive game and ability to win puck battles are things that don’t go away when a cold streak hits — and they make them much easier to break.

When the game gets heavier, that chippy style of game is what is needed to win.

“I have known him for quite a while and I have always known that he is a great player,”  Anton Lundell said.

“I am really happy to see he’s able to get even more out of his game this season. He has been able to get to the next step for sure. Bringing more up-front, his skill, his hands and today it felt great playing with him. We had some good chances and everybody saw that goal.

“It was a good shot by him.”

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
BOSTON BRUINS (ATL1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 7 (Series Tied 3-3)

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