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Barkov ready to play in Game 3

Aleksander Barkov Florida Panthers Aleksander Barkov - Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov is in for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.

Panthers head coach Paul Maurice confirmed that Barkov, who left the game after taking a high hit from Oilers star Leon Draisaitl in the third period of Game 2, will suit up as Florida tries to take a stranglehold on the series and another step towards the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Florida forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who was also hurt during Game 2, is also expected to play.

“Yes sir,” Maurice replied when asked about their status.

Maurice also hinted that Barkov may have another offensive gear he can show on the road. Barkov shadowed Edmonton captain Connor McDavid at home with the Panthers having last change. The Oilers may avoid that matchup as the series shifts to Edmonton, which could allow Barkov to see more ice versus depth players instead of stars.

“Maybe we look at Sasha Barkov a little differently, the offensive side of his game,” Maurice explained of the shift in mindset being away from Florida. Barkov has 19 points in 19 playoff games. 

“If you’re not going head to head [versus McDavid or Draisaitl]…we would lose the [strong defensive play] against the other teams, but we’re also then going to get a guy that’s a point-a-game-plus guy, and the guy on his wing [Sam Reinhart] scored 57. There’s the give and take for both teams.”

Reinhart mentioned how valuable Barkov has been to the team’s success.

“He’s the leader of our group,” he said. “It’s never easy when someone like that goes down, especially in a huge part of the game.”

The Panthers didn’t arrive in Edmonton until after 8 p.m. on Wednesday evening because of storms in Florida, but downplayed how that has affected their preparation. The team had a full morning skate on Thursday and feel that their travel issues were overblown. 

“We have reasons for [not travelling earlier],” Maurice said with a smirk. “To put this in perspective, our day got pushed two hours. We spent an hour at our rink, or a little longer. We’ve got an unbelievable rink…our chef is unbelievable. The coaches put on seven pounds yesterday. That’s the only ramification. We had 12 meals. They got on the plane, we spent an extra hour on the tarmac…[players] played cards, they laughed. Every time one of the trainers walked in he was soaked head to toe, and he got a standing ovation.”

Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk also shrugged at the travel issues, saying his team is leaning hard into an us-against-the-world mentality ahead of Thursday’s tilt. 

“Twenty guys against everybody,” Tkachuk said. “It brings us together. It allows for the mindset to be way simpler.”

Panthers forward Evan Rodrigues leads the series with three goals, including the winner in Game 2. He’s outscored Edmonton’s stars and has been a versatile forward all season for Florida.

“Evan’s game has changed over the course of the year,” Maurice explained. “When he came in and played with Sasha and Sam [Reinhart] he was good, especially analytically…then we had a bunch of injuries and started to move people around. The line he hadn’t played with was Bennett and Tkachuk, and, out of necessity, he needed to go there.”  

Rodrigues’ success comes as he’s been elevated to the Panthers’ top line with Barkov and the 57-goal man Reinhart. He had 12 goals and 39 points during the regular season.

“It’s special,” Rodrigues said after Game 2. “I’m trying to embrace it, trying to stay in the moment…it’s something I take pride in my whole career, being able to play up and down the lineup, power play, penalty kill.”

When asked about having more goals than McDavid, Draisaitl, and Zach Hyman combined, Rodrigues had a pretty brief response. 

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I’m not too worried about the point totals or goals. At the end of the day, we’re looking for wins here.”