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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Steven Lorentz: From Florida Panthers Scratch to Playoff Hero

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Steven Lorentz does not show a wide range of emotion after scoring what turned out to be the game-winner against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night. It was simply all joy. // Photos courtesy @FlaPanthers

TAMPA — Steven Lorentz did not expect to be in the Florida Panthers lineup during the playoffs.

The 28-year-old forward was a healthy scratch for most of the regular season.

As he had done throughout his career, he fought his way back into the lineup and proved the Panthers right when they called on him when Ryan Lomberg went down with an illness.

He got an assist and scored the game-winning goal in Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, helping Florida take a 3-0 series lead.

The Panthers go for the series sweep Saturday at 5.

Thursday, Lorentz could not stop smiling as he went from one interview to the next, getting stopped by teammates along the way.

Here’s the thing, though: Lorentz never lost that smile, even when scratched.

“There were some tough days, and there were some days where the last thing I wanted to do was have a smile on my face because this is a job that I’ve worked at for my whole life,” Lorentz told Florida Hockey Now.

“At times, there was the feeling of it almost slipping away, and I did not know what the next step was in terms of getting another opportunity.”

When Lorentz picked up the loose puck and beat Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy high blocker-side for the eventual game-winning goal, nobody in a Panthers uniform was calm.

The celebrations were emphatic.

And that is because everyone has seen the work Lorentz put in behind the scenes to get there in the first place.

“It says a lot,” coach Paul Maurice said. “Especially because when we’re talking about players who don’t have a five-year deal, they can become disenfranchised. So they thought, when we [traded for] him, ‘Hey, great opportunity!’ And then he was in and out of the the lineup, and then when guys got healthy, he had a long stretch where he didn’t play for us.

“For a lot of people, myself included, they would say ‘well, I’m going somewhere else next year’ and for him to do that, stay in the fight, practice hard, work hard every day. He asked the coaches ‘What can I do to get better?’ But he wasn’t banging on the door every day. He respected the entire process of it.”

Lorentz was always one of the first players on the ice at practice.

He helped Sergei Bobrovsky warm up every morning, greeted everyone with a smile, and practiced with as much intensity as anyone else on the ice.

After weeks of doing that with no end in sight, Lorentz got opportunities to prove himself when multiple forwards went down with injury and illness towards the end of the regular season.

And that was when he proved he could stick in the lineup.

“It was a bit of a struggle getting used to the systems here the first couple months of the season, not having a solidified job and I had to kind of scratch and claw to get my opportunity,” Lorentz said. “So, as hard as I’ve worked, it’s nice that the coaches have shown that trust in me and I’ve kind of taken the ball and ran with it recently.”

In the eight games Lorentz drew in the lineup for in the season’s final month, he left the biggest impression on April 4.

While dealing with an illness, he played 15:48 against the Ottawa Senators, throwing six hits and playing significant minutes on the penalty kill while helping the Panthers kill off all six of the penalties they took.

In Maurice’s words, Lorentz was “blocking shots, killing penalties and vomiting. Projectile.”

“I mean, it’s not ideal,” Lorentz said with a chuckle looking back at that game. “But you just have to work with the conditions.

“Obviously, I wasn’t feeling very good that game but I’m not one to just leave a game. You’re gonna have to drag me out of it. So if it’s something I have to do between shifts, which is puke, then I’ll get that out of me and I’ll be ready to go when the coach needs me back out there.”

That was Lorentz’s exact mindset when Maurice called on him to draw into the lineup for Games 2 and 3 against the Lightning.

He has been in the playoffs before — he played 16 playoff games with the Carolina Hurricanes in his first two years in the league — and knows what it takes to win.

“I’m not uncomfortable in this situation,” Lorentz said. “I’ve played a bunch of playoff games before in my first couple years in Carolina, so it’s not new to me. I know the intensity ramps up this time of year.”

And he brought the intensity up a few notches in Game 3.

He helped pin the Lightning in its zone following several shifts where they held the momentum.

That culminated in the goal, which put the Panthers up 3-2 — one where he fed Brandon Montour the puck after pinning Tampa Bay in its end for a while right before Montour blasted the puck past Vasilevskiy.

The Panthers never trailed after that, with Lorentz adding his goal, which put them up 4-2 and stood as the game-winner after Nick Paul drew Tampa Bay within a goal late in the game.

He worked for it all.

”It wasn’t a warm and fuzzy place for him in terms of us holding his hand,” Maurice said. “He made the decision not to quit, to work his butt off to get better and stay ready for an opportunity to play in Game 1. He was wired and lit up in practice, and chirping and bringing energy to practice.

“So good on him. He made the decision to give himself another chance.”

As the playoffs go on, Lorentz knows nothing is guaranteed.

He has known that throughout his career after grinding his way up after spending two years in the ECHL to be able to play in the NHL in the first place.

Lorentz carries the mentality it took for him to get here to this day.

“I haven’t been able to expect anything throughout the course of my career, so it’s just hard work,” Lorentz said. “And that’s what I pride myself in doing.

“There were some darker days throughout the start of the season where I wasn’t fitting in and I was just frustrated with myself and I didn’t know what was going on. But I didn’t show that and be a bad teammate.

“Eventually, I don’t know what clicked, but I just started playing a little bit harder and doing what the coaches were asking. Simplifying, not trying to score three goals and make a big splash to get back in the lineup but I appreciate that the coaches put their faith back in me and showed me opportunities to be able to go out there and not swap back and I took the ball and ran with it.

“But we’re not satisfied.”

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 3-0
GAME 4

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