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'You think about these moments': Stanley Cup Final Game 7 a childhood dream for Panthers

Jordan McPherson, Miami Herald on

Published in Hockey

Before the Florida Panthers went to the rink on Sunday for their final practice and with the biggest game of the season — and, arguably, franchise history — on the horizon, Kyle Okposo pulled his 8-year-old son aside.

“You know what I was doing when I was your age?” Okposo, finishing up his 17th NHL season, asked him. “I was in the driveway with my rollerblades on, pretending I was in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and I said, ‘How special is it that you are going to able to go to the game?’”

For a moment, as tough as it might be, ignore the circumstances that brought the series to this point — that the Panthers had a 3-0 series lead before the Edmonton Oilers won Games 4-6 to tie it and force Monday’s winner-take-all affair.

For any player with any sort of hockey dream, moments like the one that is going to unfold on Monday is one they always dream about.

Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Everything on the line. The opportunity to etch your name in history in the most heightened experience. The emotions of turning a childhood dream into a lifelong memory.

“I was one of those kids for sure,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Whenever I was outdoors or at home or literally anything, I’m thinking about like, ‘This is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.’ You think about those moments. I’ve had many of those memories, but now it’s becoming a truth [Monday] for sure. It’s exciting. The most exciting time to be a hockey player.”

But there was a time, all of about a week and a half ago, that it looked like this series wouldn’t sniff a Game 7. Florida stormed to a 3-0 series lead — winning the first three games by scores of 3-0, 4-1 and 4-3 — before Edmonton tied the series with an 8-1 blowout in Game 4, 5-3 win in Game 5 and 5-1 rout in Game 6.

Does the fact that this is how Florida and Edmonton got to Game 7 change the nostalgia of what’s to come?

 

“It doesn’t,” said Okposo, who is drawing back into the lineup on Monday after being a healthy scratch in Game 6, “because what’s your most important game? It’s your next one in the playoffs. That’s it. Like that is your most important game. So at the end of the day, they won one game in our building. We won one game in their building and now we’re here at Game 7. It is what it is. You can look at every story line. You can analyze everything. You can say how we match up, they got the momentum, we’re on our heels. It doesn’t matter. It’s your next game. You’re only only as good as your next game.”

This is just the 18th time a Stanley Cup Final series has gone seven games and only the eighth time since the 2001 series.

When it’s all said and done, the Panthers will be on one side of history either way — either hoisting the first Stanley Cup in franchise history after the series went the distance or just the second team (the 1942 Detroit Red Wings) to blow a 3-0 series lead in the Cup Final.

“Nobody ever, ever has played on a backdoor rink in Canada and scored the Game 3 overtime winner in the qualifying round, OK?” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “It’s one game. All this excites you. And that is the context of this game and the one we will live in that context.”

There’s no message that needs to be said. No pep talk. Once the puck drop, dream becomes reality.

“This is why we play the game — for games like this,” Panthers center Anton Lundell said. “You grow up watching NHL, especially the playoffs and the finals, so you remember if games go to overtime or Game 7 and you always dream about you being in that moment. [Monday] it is [that moment]. It’s a great opportunity.”

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©2024 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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