Forsling FLA all around threat TUNE IN GM4

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Gustav Forsling's recent outburst of offensive production has led to some playful banter around the Florida Panthers locker room.

"The joke was if he keeps going, he's going to be leading our team in scoring by the end of this thing," Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. "And we won't hold him back."

Nothing seems to be holding Forsling back during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Known more for preventing opponents from scoring, the defenseman heads into Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers at Amerant Bank Arena on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ESPN, SN, TVAS, CBC) with nine points (three goals, six assists) in 14 playoff games.

That's half of the point total of forward Matthew Tkachuk, who leads the Panthers with 18, but it's the most among Panthers defensemen and tied for fifth among NHL defensemen. That's impressive considering Forsling rarely plays on the power play -- he's averaged 18 seconds of power-play ice time during the postseason -- and doesn't have a power-play point.

Although the Panthers trail 2-1 in the best-of-7 series, Forsling has been doing his part. He assisted on Tkachuk's winning goal in a 3-0 victory in Game 1 and scored the tying goal in the third period of Game 3 before the Rangers rebounded to win 5-4 in overtime.

NYR@FLA ECF, Gm3: Forsling snaps in a shot from the circle to tie it

Forsling said his approach still begins with defending, though.

"I don't think it's changed too much to be honest," he said. "I still try to have a good gap, shut the other opponents down. It's always fun to contribute a little bit with goals and assists and stuff like that, but mainly I'm still focusing on defense."

That's evident by his plus-8 even-strength goal differential, which is third best in the NHL during the playoffs, despite regularly drawing the assignment of playing against opponent's top lines. Forsling has been on the ice for two goals-against, each at even strength, during the conference final.

Although Forsling leans toward defense first, the Panthers value him as a complete defenseman and signed him to an eight-year contract March 7 to keep him off the unrestricted free agent market this offseason. The 27-year-old led Florida defensemen with 39 points (10 goals, 29 assists) and had a League-leading plus-56 rating in 79 games during the regular season, despite playing limited time on the power play, where he had three points (one goal, two assists).

Last season, Forsling had an NHL career-high 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 82 regular-season games and eight points (two goals, six assists) in 21 playoff games to help Florida reach the Stanley Cup Final, where the Panthers lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.

"He can shoot the puck and he's got a really good fake up top, so a lot of his goals came off that this year," Forsling's defense partner, Aaron Ekblad, said. "Like you saw last game, 'Chuckie' rolled off the wall and got him the puck so he's moving downhill, and he's got good feet. So it's him and the goalie and he's got good instincts to put in the back of the net."

Forsling has been showing off those offensive instincts to make some important contributions of late. He joined the rush to score on a rebound for the winning goal in Florida's series-clinching 2-1 victory against the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the second round.

Then after snuffing out a scoring threat from Artemi Panarin in the defensive zone in Game 1 against the Rangers, Forsling joined the rush again to carry the puck into the offensive zone before dishing to Tkachuk for the winning goal. On his tying goal in Game 3, Forsling took a pass across from Tkachuk, skated into the left circle and beat goalie Igor Shesterkin over his glove.

"He came out pretty far," Forsling said of Shesterkin. "I just saw an opening, to be honest, and tried to get it over his shoulder and glove there. So that's what I tried to do. He usually attacks pretty well, so I tried to get it by him."

FLA@NYR ECF, Gm1: Tkachuk scores the game's opening goal

Forsling came within inches of scoring again, with a wrist shot from the high slot off the rush that clanked off the crossbar at 11:58 of the third period Sunday.

Maurice views Forsling's scoring as another sign of his confidence and growth from a player who struggled initially to find his footing in the NHL after being selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the fifth round (No. 126) of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Forsling never played for the Canucks, getting traded to the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 29, 2015. He bounced between Chicago and Rockford of the American Hockey League for three seasons before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes on June 25, 2019. Forsling spent the 2019-20 season with Charlotte in the AHL before Carolina placed him on waivers, and Florida claimed him Jan. 9, 2021.

Forsling has been on an upward trajectory in his four seasons with Florida and continues to find ways to help the Panthers win important games. Scoring timely goals is another facet of that.

"I never felt Gustav was ever underconfident," Maurice said. "There's no arrogance in the man. But for a guy that kind of had to scratch and claw and got waivered, [went from] healthy scratched to the one-two hole, there might be some doubt sometimes in there. I just never really saw it from him because all you look at is the process.

"The guy works so hard every day, he was just getting better and better. … I think you've just seen the natural ascension of a man that has done absolutely everything he can do max himself out. Where he gets to, I'm not sure."