FLA celebrates goal

EDMONTON -- The Florida Panthers laughed off concerns about their three-hour, 21-minute delay and five-hour, 44-minute flight to Edmonton on Wednesday.

Their charter flight landed about 22 hours before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; CBC, TVAS, SN, ESPN+, ABC).

Florida leads the best-of-7 series 2-0.

“People are making a pretty big deal out of it, and I think it’s hilarious,” forward Kyle Okposo said.

A direct flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Edmonton is 2,583 miles, the farthest between two cities in the Cup Final in NHL history. The NHL scheduled two off days before each venue change in the series.

The Oilers flew to Edmonton on Tuesday. The Panthers elected to practice at home before flying Wednesday, despite heavy rain in South Florida.

Coach Paul Maurice said he left the travel decisions to the experts, the same way he leaves the medical decisions to the experts.

“We have reasons for it,” Maurice said.

The Panthers were scheduled to take off at 1 p.m. ET. They spent extra time in their new practice facility before leaving for the airport, then spent extra time on the plane before pulling back from the gate at 4:21 p.m. ET and taking off at 4:25.

“Our chef is unbelievable,” Maurice said. “The coaches put on seven pounds yesterday. That’s the only ramification. We had 12 meals. We got on the plane. We spent an hour and a half on the tarmac, whatever it was. They played cards. They laughed. Every time one of the trainers walked in and he was soaked from head to toe, he got a standing ovation.”

Center Anton Lundell said the delay was fun.

“We had more time to spend together,” he said. “The guys who played cards had a little more time to win or lose some money. We had a great time. I don’t think any of us think it was a big deal in that way.”

Okposo said he watched the show “A Man in Full” on Netflix and finished the book “Fourth Wing.” He credited the Panthers vice president of player engagement for how he handled the situation.

“Mike Huff was fantastic throughout it,” Okposo said. “The details will get out at a later date.”

After the Panthers landed in Edmonton at 7:56 p.m. MT, they pulled into the gate at 8:05 p.m. MT and rode to their hotel downtown. There was more food ready for them. The players had options to get their bodies moving.

“I think most guys did something when they got to the hotel -- pool, bike, whatever,” forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “I mean, it was a long flight. By the time you got to the hotel, you just do that and go right to bed. It was pretty easy, to be honest.”

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad said he got about nine hours of sleep before the Panthers had a full skate at 10:30 a.m. MT.

“It was great,” Ekblad said. “I’ll take it.”

Was anyone ever really worried about not making it to Edmonton on Wednesday?

“I’m sure a little bit,” forward Evan Rodrigues said. “You never really know, right? We didn’t care. If we had to leave this morning, we would have left this morning. There’s no excuses this time of the year, and we would have embraced the challenge. It was a unique experience. It was serious rain coming down. But obviously happy to make it.”

Maurice tried to keep it all in perspective. 

“There’s some people who are struggling right now in Florida,” Maurice said. “It was flooding, so it’s a serious thing that happened there. But our day was not serious.”

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