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2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Third Line of Florida Panthers Reaching New Heights with Eetu Luostarinen

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Eetu Luostarinen, pictured before a game in Tampa Bay, has been a fine addition to the Florida Panthers’ third line which is creating havoc in the playoffs. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

When looking at what makes up the identity of the Florida Panthers, their third line has become a staple.

Coach Paul Maurice worked all season trying to build up a team that can play a hard forechecking game fit for the postseason and, so far, that has been the case.

The third line — typically featuring Anton Lundell and Sam Reinhart — has shown flashes of being able to do so all season.

But once Maurice added Eetu Luostarinen to that line, it has played that style of game to a tee.

“It has really pushed that line to a different place but I will say that’s true of each time I have moved him to a different line,” Maurice said.

”This is our fourth-line center from last year but he has played left wing with [Sasha] Barkov, [Sam] Bennett and now with Lundell. Wherever we put him, we love the line.”

Luostarinen has elevated his game since moving to the wing, taking the typical net-front tendencies and defensive IQ of a center and transforming into a hard-checking winger with a long reach who can break off passing lanes.

He meshes in well everywhere he plays but Lundell and Reinhart’s commitment to the forecheck has made their line hard for either of Florida’s playoff opponents to stop.

“He is playing with so much confidence and he is a guy who most guys would hate to play against,” Reinhart said.

“He is so good at taking time and space away and he is so smart and I think we have been reading off each other pretty well.”

Lundell and Reinhart also have experience playing down the middle, making that line very defensively potent.

But, having three guys with that experience as a center has gone through growing pains as well.

“It could go both ways,” Reinhart said.

“It is almost dangerous at times. You can be too defensive-minded but I think we have been doing a good job of having a lot of communication. We understand when it is our turn to pressure forward and be on our toes a little bit because you know the next guy is going to be covering you.”

Their transition to playing together has been seamless since Maurice opted to switch the lines up midway through Florida’s first-round series against the Boston Bruins.

The trio made a huge impact on the Panthers’ Game 6 victory — with Luostarinen scoring the game-winning goal and Lundell adding two assists — and it has continued to be a key cog in the team’s success since.

Luostarinen came up with the key turnover to help set up Gus Forsling what was the game-winning goal of Game 2 of their second-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It feels like ever since we have become a line, we’ve been able to get a lot of chances,” Lundell said.

”The last few games, we’ve been able to get some goals. Physically, we get on a lot of pucks, we just need too keep going.”

In what has been a career season for Luostarinen — seeing the 24-year-old nearly double his career point total from 26 to 43 and goal total from nine to 17 — the postseason has served as a preview to the hockey world for what is next in his career.

“He is so strong and he’s young, too. He’s still learning,” Maurice said.

“He kills penalties for us, he has hands, he can make plays and there is a time in his career where he is on the power play. He just makes the people around him better.”

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
 EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (ATL2) AT FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 3 (Panthers Lead 2-0)

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