SUNRISE, Fla. -- For Dmitry Kulikov, it's likely the biggest secondary assist of his career.

At 14:59 of the second period in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Florida Panthers defenseman was there to clear away the loose puck, which was in front of a partially open net after goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky stopped a shot from Edmonton Oilers forward Warren Foegele.

“Oh, it happened so fast,” Kulikov said. “The puck just came out in front. I mean, I was looking at it, I got pushed from behind (by Oilers forward Dylan Holloway) and I just cleared it out.”

It was a pivotal play that became all the more so just 12 seconds later, when Panthers forward Sam Reinhart scored what would be the Cup-clinching goal in Florida’s 2-1 win against Edmonton at Amerant Bank Arena on Monday. The assist was Kulikov's second point in 24 games this postseason for the Panthers, who won the Cup for the first time in their history.

“We knew we just need to battle somehow to find a way to win the game, and 'Kuly' made an unbelievable play,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “A lot of guys blocked shots at the end and here we are.”

Not bad timing for Kulikov at all.

“Yeah, crazy, crazy play,” said forward Carter Verhaeghe, who got the loose puck that Kulikov cleared. “For him to do that, huge block, I mean, we had so many guys with huge blocks. It feels amazing.”

EDM@FLA SCF, Gm7: Kulikov makes great play, then Reinhart scores

It felt amazing for Kulikov for sentimental reasons, as well.

The 33-year-old was selected by the Panthers with the No. 14 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft and played his first seven seasons with Florida before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres on June 25, 2016. Over the next seven seasons, Kulikov would play for seven teams: the Sabres, Winnipeg Jets, New Jersey Devils, Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and, yes, the Oilers (10 games in 2020-21).

Then last offseason, Kulikov decided to return to Florida by signing a one-year contract with the Panthers as an unrestricted free agent.

“Yeah, it feels great,” Kulikov said. “I haven’t put everything, all the thoughts in my head, in a row now, altogether. It just feels great to celebrate with the teammates and family.”

It also felt great for Reinhart and Verhaeghe, who scored the opening goal in Game 7. Reinhart led Florida with 94 points (57 goals, 37 assists) during the regular season, and Verhaeghe led the team in goals during the playoffs (11). They’re two of Florida’s go-to players, but they had been fairly contained against Edmonton. Reinhart had three points (one goal, two assists) through the first six games of the Final, and Verhaeghe had two points (one goal, one assist).

No one was surprised, though, that they came through in Game 7.

“Big players step up in big times,” Panthers forward Sam Bennett said. “Your best players usually step up in the biggest games. There was no surprise those two stepped up tonight.”

The Panthers needed contributions from everyone to win the Cup. They got them, from one end of the rink to the other.

“I never thought I’d be in this position,” Kulikov said. “It just feels unbelievable. I can’t even explain this feeling.”

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