OEL Game 6 TONIGHT bug

EDMONTON -- A little more than a year ago, Oliver Ekman-Larsson still was dealing with the aftershock of having the final four seasons of his contract bought out by the Vancouver Canucks.

The Florida Panthers defenseman is in a far more preferable position heading into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on Friday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS). Although the Panthers' 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series has been reduced to 3-2, they remain one win away from winning the Stanley Cup for the first time.

It would also be the first Cup championship for Ekman-Larsson after 14 seasons in the NHL.

"It's just an unbelievable feeling to get this chance to be in this spot," the 32-year-old said Friday. "I think everybody is excited and this is what we live for and worked for all our life to be in this position to be able to close it out. Just have fun with it. That's what we have to do. Just go out there, have fun and play hard. That's what we've been doing all year and that's what we've got to do tonight."

Ekman-Larsson could play a pivotal role for Florida in its biggest game of season. With the Panthers power play struggling through the first five games of the series, Ekman-Larsson will replace Brandon Montour  at the point on the top power-play unit.

Florida is 1-for-16 with the man-advantage during the Cup Final and allowed a short-handed goal in losing each of the past two games. The short-handed goals put the Panthers in a 1-0 hole early in each game, with Mattias Janmark scoring 3:11 into an 8-1 loss in Game 4, and Connor Brown scoring 5:30 into a 5-3 loss in Game 5.

Montour's errant pass led to Brown's breakaway goal in Game 5, so Florida is hoping Ekman-Larsson's experience can help eliminate such mistakes.

"I'm ready for it," Ekman-Larsson said. "I played [on the power play] a little bit in the beginning of the year. Just happy for that opportunity if that happens. Obviously, 'Monty,' he's been moving the puck well and the power play has been really good, winning us some big games. We've just got to keep sticking with it and keep having good looks and keep working hard at it."

Ekman-Larsson, who has six points (two goals, four assists) in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games, played on the top defense pair with Gustav Forsling and on the first power-play unit for the first 16 games of the regular season for Florida while Montour and Aaron Ekblad each were recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. It was a role he was used to from his first 13 NHL seasons with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes (2010-21) and the Canucks (2021-23).

The Canucks bought out Ekman-Larsson on June 16, 2023, after he was limited to 54 games last season and did not play after Feb. 15 when he broke his foot for second time in less than a year. The Panthers signed him to a one-year contract July 1 to help them get through start of the season without Montour and Ekblad before he receded into a lesser role playing the third pair with Dmitry Kulikov and the second power-play unit.

But Ekman-Larsson proved during that time he can handle a bigger role, if needed, such as in Game 6 on Friday.

"Probably the best thing that happened is that we were injured, so he didn't come in 5-6 hole, he came in and he played with Gustav," Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. "And he came out after that 13-15 [games] viewed in our room as the NHL defenseman that he is, and he got to carry that confidence and that respect throughout the year.

"Now, he's not 22. This is a joy for him. This is the thing that he could've only dreamed about happening in his career from a year ago to being where he is now, and because he's got that confidence and that experience in him, he's playing to make the most of it."

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