Tarasenko TONIGHT bug

EDMONTON -- Vladimir Tarasenko isn’t the most outwardly talkative guy, at least to the media.

But for Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice, Tarasenko’s voice, especially on the bench, has been a huge part of why the veteran forward has fit in with them so seamlessly.

“He’d be on the bench with (center Aleksander) Barkov, and they’d never stop talking hockey," Maurice said Friday. "Like, straight through the entire game they were talking about the plays.

“The nice part for me with that is he’s now doing it with (forward) Anton Lundell. Anton’s got a whole lot of playoff experience but he’s still a young player. He’s keeping him engaged, talking to him about the specifics about what happens on the ice. So there’s a leadership component to communication on the bench. He’s been very impactful in that way.”

Tarasenko has been impactful on the ice as well. After helping the St. Louis Blues win the first Cup in their history in 2019, the 32-year-old is trying to do the same with the Panthers against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; CBC, TVAS, SN, ESPN+, ABC).

Florida leads the best-of-7 series 3-0 following a 4-3 win at Rogers Place on Thursday, thanks in part to Tarasenko's second-period goal, the first of three straight for the Panthers that turned a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 Florida advantage.

Tarasenko, who arrived in Florida after being acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on March 6, is one of two Panthers players who have won the Cup before, along with forward Carter Verhaeghe, won it with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020. As right wing on the top line with the Blues in 2019, Tarasenko had 17 points (11 goals, six assists) in 26 postseason games.

As far as giving advice to teammates who haven’t won it all, Tarasenko said, “When guys ask me, I share something. Share something on the road sometimes. Most important part is (to) go one game at a time.”

This postseason, playing right wing on the third line with left wing Eetu Luostarinen and center Lundell, Tarasenko has eight points (four goals, four assists) in 20 games. That includes scoring the game- and series-winning goal at 9:08 of the third period of Florida’s 2-1 win against the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on June 1.

“He’s been so valuable,” said Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk, who as a St. Louis native, grew up watching Tarasenko with the Blues.

“He was one of my favorite players. It’s actually pretty crazy I’m on the same team with him right now. When it’s all said and done, we’ll be looking back as one of the coolest moments for me, seeing him score a ton of big goals and last night was no different. It’s pretty cool. Great play by (Luostarinen), great play by ‘Lundy’ (Lundell) to start. They’ve been a really good line for us. I’m sure my 12- or 15-year-old self would be completely starstruck with me having this opportunity right now to play with him.”

Forward Evan Rodrigues said Tarasenko has “Florida Panthers DNA.”

“He’s physical, he’s heavy and he’s been pretty clutch," Rodrigues said. "He’s gotten some big goals for us. [In Game 3] they’re coming with a lot of pressure, they score the one and they’re kind of on us a little bit, and boom, he gets a big one for us.

“He defends hard, he backchecks, he’s got a lot of Panther DNA in him, and he’s fit in seamlessly with our group.”

Tarasenko has been here, done this before. He has a chance to win another Cup and his contributions to Florida have been invaluable, on and off the ice. 

“He’s been incredible,” Panthers center Sam Bennett said. “Just his energy, every day. He’s always smiling, he’s always in a good mood.

“His leadership has been crucial for us. He’s got that experience, and a lot of guys look up to him, so he’s been incredible for especially the young guys but honestly for every guy in our locker room looks up to him. He’s been a big part of this.”

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