Aleksander Barkov on track to play Game 3 of Cup Final for Panthers after injury scare

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Aleksander Barkov was a full participant in practice for the Florida Panthers in practice on Wednesday and appears likely to play Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday. This is a big relief for the Panthers since Barkov left Game 2 following a hit to the head from Leon Draisaitl.

“He felt better today,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice explained. “He got through the skate today. We’ll get him on a plane, get him off the plane, get him on the ice, and make a decision on where he’s at tomorrow, but good today.”

All signs point to Barkov suiting up for Game 3 when the Panthers aim to take a commanding 3-0 series lead in the Cup Final. Barkov has been an integral part of this playoff run for Florida, shutting down the opposing teams’ top players throughout the postseason, most recently Oilers superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the Stanley Cup Final.

Barkov and the Panthers have held McDavid and Draisaitl to just one point combined in the series, an assist from McDavid on the Oilers’ lone goal in Game 2. This was the only goal of the series, leaving Edmonton searching for answers coming into Game 3.

In addition to his extraordinary defensive capabilities, the Panthers captain is an offensive driver as well. In 19 playoff games, he has registered six goals and 13 assists, averaging 21:31 in ice time, often playing against the top lines every night.

Related: 2024 Stanley Cup Final: Key takeaways from Panthers’ 4-1 win in Game 2 vs. Oilers

Aleksander Barkov trending towards playing Game 3 for Panthers

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The fear of losing Barkov in this series was real for Maurice and the Panthers, since he did not return to Game 2 following the hit from Draisaitl midway through the third period. It looked bad as he took the arm and elbow of Draisaitl directly to the face and jaw. Barkov wobbled and fell down after first getting up and then was helped off the ice. Draisaitl received a two-minute penalty for roughing and the Panthers scored a power-play goal that made it 3-1. They ultimately won 4-1.

“Nobody wants to lose their captain, and you don’t know if you have or not for a block of time,” said Maurice. “Nobody is replacing their elite players.”

When asked about his feelings postgame about Draisaitl’s hit, Maurice was in a sarcastic and foul mood.

“This isn’t the Oprah Winfrey Show. My feelings don’t matter,” Maurice snapped Monday.

Not only does Barkov staying in the lineup help Florida’s chances of winning, but it provides a boost of confidence for the rest of the team as well.

“It was great, it’s nice to have him out there,” forward Kyle Okposo mentioned. “He’s a huge part of our team, maybe the biggest piece of our team. It was a great time that he was out there.”

If Barkov and the Panthers can continue to shut down the top players of the Oilers, and their team in general, it will be hard for Edmonton to climb back into this series. The Oilers almost must win both of their home games, and take the 2-2 split back to Florida if they want a chance at winning the Stanley Cup against a relentless Panthers team.

With Barkov in the lineup, it’s an even taller task for McDavid and Co.

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