Barkov FLA on verge of Cup tune in tonight

EDMONTON -- Aleksander Barkov became a member of the Florida Panthers on June 30, 2013, when they picked him with the No. 2 selection in the 2013 NHL Draft.

Aaron Ekblad came on board 363 days later, on June 27, 2014, when the Panthers selected him first in the 2014 NHL Draft.

They are the two longest tenured members of the team. They have been through everything with this one franchise, including six different coaches and three general managers, home games that had fewer than 8,000 people in the stands, seasons when they had no chance to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

And now together they have an opportunity to lead the Panthers to their first Stanley Cup championship.

Not surprisingly, it wasn't easy for Barkov and Ekblad, hours before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS), to find the right words to express what this all means to them.

"I don't know if I have the words to justify it and put it into perspective," Ekblad said. "It's an amazing opportunity for all we've been through. Have to go grab it."

Barkov didn't even want to think about it, or at least he didn't want to express publicly the fact that he might be thinking about what can happen Saturday night with the Panthers up 3-0 in the best-of-7 series, at minimum 60 minutes away from winning the Stanley Cup.

He also didn't want to think about the potential of becoming the first Finnish-born captain in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup.

"Maybe later," the Panthers captain said. "Right now, with this group, it's a special group because we live in the moment. We enjoy every single moment. Every single win we enjoy as a group. Every time we lose, we learn from it as a group. It's been a great journey so far, but we only live in the moment and tonight we have a great challenge in front of us."

Barkov Ekblad FLA draft day split

Barkov repeated the "live in the moment" mantra four times in the four minutes he spent in front of the media in the visitors' dressing room here after the morning skate Saturday.

Even when it was brought up to him that no moment in his career or the Panthers history has been bigger than this, Barkov balked and talked about not looking too far ahead, which he did five times in his four minutes with the media.

"We don't think too much about what's going to happen if we lose or if we win," Barkov said. "All we want to think about is how we come to the game well prepared."

But as he spoke, Barkov was smiling. He was smiling when he was on the ice in the morning skate. He was smiling when he came off the ice. 

This moment means a lot to him, especially that he's in it with the Panthers. He is their all-time leader in points and games played in both the regular season (711 points in 737 games) and the Stanley Cup Playoffs (58 in 67 games).

He leads the Panthers this postseason with 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists).

"We've put ourselves in a good spot right now, so we've got to enjoy this," Barkov said. "We've got to come to the rink and play as hard as possible and enjoy every single second."

Ekblad feels the same way. You could sense his energy and enthusiasm as he talked from the podium with Carter Verhaeghe to his left. 

He is second to Barkov in Panthers history in games played in the regular season (676) and playoffs (60). He is third among all Panthers players this postseason averaging 22:45 ice time per game, part of a top defense pair with Gustav Forsling that has limited or shut down completely some of the best in the NHL, including Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in this round.

"We're excited, we're anxious, we're optimistic," Ekblad said. "It's a great opportunity."

And if it goes well Saturday night, Barkov will get the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, raise it over his head, skate around the rink, and probably give it right to Ekblad so he could do the same.

It's possible now. It's realistic. But, yes, it's faux pas to prematurely talk about it.

"Live in the moment," Barkov said.

Related Content