BOSTON -- Kyle Okposo is a self-proclaimed, "huge hockey nut" who has enjoyed watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs since his childhood growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and, unfortunately, during too many of his 17 seasons in the NHL.

Being involved in the playoffs for the first time since 2016 has reminded the Florida Panthers forward just how much fun it can be.

"Obviously, I'm here to prepare and I'm here to play and I'm going to take all those things extremely seriously," Okposo said. "But looking around at the game and how tight it is and the bodies that are flying, everybody's diving for pucks and I've just found myself smiling on the bench a couple times because there's nothing quite like playoff hockey."

The March 8 trade that sent Okposo from the Buffalo Sabres to the Panthers has provided the 36-year-old with what he believes is his best chance to win the Stanley Cup. He continued to take advantage of it during Florida's 3-2 victory against the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Sunday, assisting on Aleksander Barkov's winning goal.

With another win in Game 5 of the best-of-7 series at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida, on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, SNO, SNE, TVAS, CBC), Okposo would reach the conference final for the first time and Florida would move a step closer to returning to the Stanley Cup Final after a five-game loss to the Vegas Golden Knights last season.

"It's 100 percent the best opportunity that I've had," Okposo said. "I've watched the playoffs pretty religiously over the past 25-30 years and I just love playoff hockey, but I've never had a chance where you feel like you really have a chance to win."

Before this season, Okposo played in the playoffs only three times -- all during his nine NHL seasons with the New York Islanders -- and advanced beyond the first round once. That was in 2016, when the Islanders defeated the Panthers before losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.

Okposo never expected when he signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with Buffalo after that season that he'd have to wait eight years to experience playoff hockey again. Although he has many fond memories of his Sabres tenure, including serving as their captain the past two seasons, being unable to help them return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011 was his biggest disappointment.

When Okposo signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract to remain with the Sabres following last season, he thought they were on the cusp of breaking through after going 42-33-7 and finishing one point behind the Panthers for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. He could tell from early this season, though, that something was off, and they regressed, going 39-37-6 to finish seven points behind the Washington Capitals for the second wild card in the East.

Still, it was difficult for Okposo to decide to move on from Buffalo.

"I agonized over it for a long time, a lot of sleepless nights thinking about my leaving my family, about leaving everything that I tried to build there," he said. "There was a lot that went into what I tried to do there and the relationships that you build and the impact that you think you have. But at the end of the day, and I've said it before, nobody ever outlives an organization. Nobody. … So, I had to try to take that into account and make sure I was making a decision that was in the best interest of myself and I think being here was the right one for me."

Although Okposo identified Florida as a preferred destination, the trade came with no guarantees about playing time. He has 614 points (242 goals, 372 assists) in 1,051 NHL regular-season games and has evolved with age from a power forward who played regularly on the power play and scored at least 20 goals four times into a grinding depth player who utilizes his size (6-foot, 216 pounds) and strength on the forecheck.

Joining the Panthers, a far deeper team than the Sabres and who finished first in the Atlantic Division with 110 points (52-24-6), has meant playing limited minutes, mostly on the fourth line, and sometimes being an extra. After failing to get a point and averaging 10:41 in ice time in six regular season games with Florida, Okposo was a healthy scratch for the first two playoff games before Sam Bennett's upper-body injury created an opening for him to play Game 3 of the first round against Tampa Bay.

He assisted on a goal by Brandon Montour and had three hits in 6:41 of ice time in a 5-3 victory. Since then, he's established himself as a fixture in in the lineup, even after Bennett returned for Game 3 against the Bruins. When Sam Reinhart missed most of the third period after being hit in the face with a puck Sunday, Okposo moved up to play with Barkov and Vladimir Tarasenko on the first line and, again, made an impact.

"It talks to his leadership. It talks to his will to win," said Panthers forward Evan Rodrigues, who played with Okposo on the Sabres from 2016 to 2020. "He'll do whatever you need him to do, and I think he's been playing incredible. He's heavy, he's a big guy and he's been playing that way."

Okposo has happily accepted whatever Florida has given him. Although he has only two assists and is averaging just 9:14 in ice time in his seven postseason games, his rate of 20.40 hits per 60 minutes is best on the Panthers among those who have played at least two games.

"I knew the situation going into it," he said. "They were very upfront with me about playing. I just said, 'I'm going to do whatever the team needs me to do.' I've always been confident in myself and what I can bring and the game that I still feel like I have, but it's the playoffs. You're going to go when your number is called."

Panthers coach Paul Maurice compares Okposo to Eric Staal, a former captain and first line forward with the Carolina Hurricanes who was an important contributor to Florida as a veteran voice and depth forward last season.

"Every guy in that room played against him over the years," Maurice said. "He's got some close friends off the ice in the room. He has a tremendous amount of respect, so what we encourage him is, 'Play your game, prep your game and all that, but don't sit on the bench as a fourth liner when you were brought in for all these other things as well.'"

Okposo took some time to find his place in the locker room leadership dynamic headed by Barkov, the Panthers captain, and alternates Matthew Tkachuk, Aaron Ekblad and Reinhart. He's reached the point where he's comfortable speaking up when he thinks it's appropriate.

"You've got to build that respect from your teammate, and that's how I've always tried to live my life," Okposo said. "You build a relationship, you build respect, so they know that it's not coming from anywhere other than being genuine, and then now I can speak. I feel like in the short time I've been here I've tried to earn that, and I think I'm in a pretty good spot with that."

Casey Mittelstadt, who played seven seasons with Okposo before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche on March 6, appreciated the calming effect he always provided for the young players in Buffalo. So, he's happy to see him find his niche with Florida, where he can share his experiences with a different group of players in a different situation.

"They're similar to us and what we're trying to do and what we're trying to accomplish," Mittelstadt said. "In his case, I think it was best-case scenario and he's been playing really well, which makes me super happy. I'm definitely cheering for him and his success."

After finding exactly what he wanted when he decided to seek a trade from the Sabres, Okposo hopes there is more success coming.

"You want an opportunity to have a chance to win," he said. "So, to be here now and to be on the team and be a part of it is very special and not something that I take lightly. I'm looking forward to continuing the run."

NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this report