Eetu Luostarinen is healthy this Stanley Cup Final. That's a big deal for the Florida Panthers

Sun, Jun 9, 2024
NHL News (AP)

Eetu Luostarinen is healthy this Stanley Cup Final. That's a big deal for the Florida Panthers

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) - A year after a broken leg sidelined Eetu Luostarinen for the Stanley Cup Final, the flexible Finn is healthy this time around.

That's a big deal for the Florida Panthers in their pursuit of the first championship in franchise history.

Luostarinen made several noticeable defensive plays in their shutout of the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 on Saturday night and sealed the win with an empty-net goal in the final seconds.

"First final game for me, so it was exciting," he said Sunday. "It's just trying to do my best every game. We had fun, and being able to score that goal, too, was fun."

Florida being so banged up last season - Brandon Montour's torn-up shoulder, Matthew Tkachuk's broken sternum, Radko Gudas' sprained ankle, Aaron Ekblad's broken foot and assorted other injuries - contributed significantly to losing to Vegas in five games. Panthers coach Paul Maurice said going into this final the Panthers were as healthy as a hockey team could be at this point.

The difference is palpable, and it begins with Luostarinen's ability to do it all.

"We always thought highly of him last year, but I think absence makes the heart grow fonder," Maurice said. "When he missed that series, we really noticed it. It changed so much of what we do. He's been a big player for us. ...

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"He's one of those all-around players, he grinds hard, he makes good plays, blocks shots. Probably focused on the defensive side of the game, so he doesn't get quite as much notoriety, but really important part of our game."

KANE NOT ABLE

The Oilers, on the other hand, are dealing with one of their most versatile forwards playing at way less than 100%.

Edmonton winger Evander Kane, who has been taking a lot of practices off, struggled to do much in Game 1 as he deals with a sports hernia that he has played through. Kane has eight points through 19 playoff games.

"Obviously, he's not the Evander Kane of a couple of years ago," coach Kris Knoblauch said. "It's unfortunate for any player. Any time you're battling with something, it takes away from your game, no matter if you're a skilled, speedy forward, defensive forward or a power forward. It takes a toll on you. It's tougher to find your game."

BOB'S SHUTOUT

Florida's Sergei Bobrovsky got a Stanley Cup Final shutout at the age of 35 years, 262 days on Saturday night in Game 1. He became only the fifth goalie in the last 55 seasons to get a shutout win in the Cup final after turning 35.

Boston's Tim Thomas had two shutouts as a 37-year-old in the 2011 final, Detroit's Chris Osgood (36) got one in 2009, Detroit's Dominik Hasek (37) got one in 2002 and Boston's Gerry Cheevers (37) got one in 1978.

THE ODDS SAY

The Panthers are now at minus-250 to win the Stanley Cup, according to BetMGM Sportsbook (meaning one would have to wager $250 to profit $100). They were favored in the series going into Game 1 and became a bit of a bigger favorite after opening the series with a 3-0 win.

Edmonton is listed with plus-200 odds, meaning a $100 wager on the Oilers would return a total of $300.

ANOTHER RING

Maurice started his news conference after Game 1 by offering congratulations to the Florida Everblades, who had just won the ECHL title - the Kelly Cup - for a third consecutive season.

He lauded team president Craig Brush, head coach and general manager Brad Ralph, then said "and maybe even Jake Maurice."

Jake Maurice is Paul Maurice's son and has been the Everblades' play-by-play voice for the last two seasons, coinciding with his father's time with the Panthers.

"The kid's been in pro hockey two years, he has two rings," Paul Maurice said. "Possibly unbearable it's going to be at my house."

The Everblades are a Panthers minor league affiliate and play their home games in Estero, Florida - about a 90-minute drive west from where the Panthers play.

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STEPHEN WHYNO DC-based hockey writer covering NHL, Capitals and Commanders twitter mailto TIM REYNOLDS Reynolds is an Associated Press sports writer, based in South Florida. twitter mailto "
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