SUNRISE — On Thursday morning, Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice made it public that captain Sasha Barkov had been battling an illness during the opening two games of the playoff series against the Boston Bruins.
Disclosing that Barkov was battling through something in the first two games was not made as an excuse but to explain his games in Boston.
“He was so sick before Game 1,” Maurice said. “I’m not going to tell anyone because he was in the lineup that night. He has gotten better each night as he has recovered. I thought the two days off, for him, were critical.”
Florida’s captain was held to just one shot on goal in those games, five shot attempts, six hits, one assist and a 58 percent faceoff win rate.
Barkov has been much better since — but is still without a goal in this series against the Bruins.
On Friday morning, Barkov did not want to talk about the illness — “I am better now,” he told FHN.
The Panthers kept their season going with a 4-3 overtime win in Boston on Wednesday night and have a chance to push this best-of-7 series to the limit with another win tonight.
“We had a plan going into that game and we have a plan going into this game,” Barkov said. “Everyone believes in that and we are just going to keep working hard. … This is what it is all about, having all our fans behind us and supporting us in the playoffs. This is great for sure.”
Maurice has talked about the pressure of this series needing to be placed on the shoulders of Florida’s best players — and that would certainly include Barkov.
In the past three games, Barkov has two assists, 12 shots on goal, 25 shot attempts, nine hits all while his faceoff percentage has dropped to 44 percent (23/52).
“The last two games, for me, have been markedly different than the first three,” Maurice said.
“For me, he was sick and we did not announce that because he was playing in that (first) game. He didn’t get a shot attempt in that game. He looked completely different. The line has to be good. Sure, there is pressure on him, but I am comfortable with his past two games. He has been strong for us.”
Another one of Florida’s top players who looks like he continues to battle through something is defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
Ekblad missed Game 4 after a high hit the previous game but returned on Wednesday and appeared to struggle despite being on the ice 27:29 — second-most among all players just behind d-partner Gus Forsling (28:21).
This has been a trying season for Ekblad with numerous injuries slowing him down but that does not mean the Panthers count on him any less.
“I thought he was a battler in the game and nothing was easy for him,” Maurice said of Ekblad. “He helped the fight. His mind was right in what he wanted to get done but it was just a hard slog for him. Part of that is the Boston Bruins. Really courageous effort because it was not easy for him. We believe he is going to get stronger as every day goes goes by.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
BOSTON BRUINS (ATL1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 6 (Boston Leads 3-2)
- When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, TNT
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Regular Season Series (Tied 2-2): @Boston 5, Florida 3 (Oct. 17); @Florida 5, Boston 2 (Nov. 23); @Boston 7, Florida 3 (Dec. 19); @Florida 4, Boston 3 OT (Jan. 28)
- Last Season: Boston won 2-1
- All-time Regular Season Series: Boston leads 60-38-6, 6 ties
- Playoff History (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 4-1, 1996 (first round)
- First Round Schedule — Game 1: @Boston 3, Florida 1; Game 2: Florida 6, @Boston 3; Game 3: Boston 4, @Florida 2; Game 4: Boston 6, @Florida 2; Game 5: Florida 4, @Boston 3 (OT); Game 6: at Florida, Friday, 7:30 (TNT, BSF); Game 7*: at Boston, Sunday. (*) — If Necessary.