Members of the Vegas Golden Knights Mark Stone, right, celebrates along with right wing Phil Kessel after they defeated the Florida Panthers 9-3 to win the Stanley Cup in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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LAS VEGAS — Aaron Ekblad controlled his emotions the best he could after the Florida Panthers were eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in a 9-3 loss Tuesday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

As the Knights celebrated their first championship, Ekblad and the Panthers remained somber after a remarkable and improbable run through the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed.

“It’s a tough feeling right now and you can’t sum it up in one game,” Ekblad said, fighting back tears. “Thought we came out, played hard tonight, so you can look back on that as a positive. The things you go through to get to this point, you couldn’t imagine.”

Like overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the opening round against the NHL’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins, and opening the next three rounds with two road games, in Toronto, Carolina and Las Vegas.

“What a team, right?” Ekblad said. “It’s not easy to do that. Some of the best teams in regular season history, so there’s a lot of positives to look at.”

The Panthers also dealt with numerous injuries, most notably points leader Matthew Tkachuk.

“I’m not sure — it’s his collarbone, sternum, clavicle, SI joint is I think the words I heard,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said.

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Maurice confirmed Tkachuk suffered the fracture after being hit by Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar in Game 3, and went on to say he needed assistance dressing for Game 4 with someone helping him put his gear and jersey on while also needing someone to tie his skates.

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“That was a bit of a problem,” Maurice said. “He’s, I don’t know, one of four guys with broken bones.”

Nevertheless, Ekblad, said the Panthers came together to form a bond only they’ll be able to appreciate considering the obstacles they overcame.

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“There’s a lot of guys that played through a lot of stuff, and that was tough for sure,” Ekblad said. “As a group, we stuck together and … we learned a lot about ourselves and our game and who we are as people. What we went through is miraculous and the way some guys played and collectively as a team, the way we played, was pretty incredible.

“Ultimately, we just didn’t get the job done here.”

What he and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said they did get done was laying a foundation for next season.

“There’s no stopping now,” Ekblad said. “There’s no stopping here. Bump in the road and it’s going to sting. It stings now. But we’ll find a way to come back next year and be stronger because of it. I mean, how could you not go through what we went through this year?”

Added Bobrovksy: “I’m really proud and it was a privilege for me to play with them and fight with them. It’s definitely tough, definitely tough way to lose that way, to lose the game that way and end the season that way. But we have done a fantastic job and I want to stick to that. Last year we won only one round of playoffs. This year we won three rounds. So we’re building. We’re getting there and we’re excited. Next season, we’re going to have another opportunity and I’m excited for that.”


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