Panthers downplay their travel delay and late arrival in Edmonton during the Stanley Cup Final


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EDMONTON, Alberta — The Florida Panthers' decision to spend more time at home and wait an extra day to travel from one corner of the continent to the other during the Stanley Cup Final became the talk of the series when their flight Wednesday got delayed by severe storms in and around Fort Lauderdale.

The plane eventually got off the ground, landed late in Edmonton and got the Panthers to their hotel less than 24 hours before facing the Oilers in Game 3. The travel woes were the buzz of their morning skate Thursday, with players and coach Paul Maurice downplaying them at every turn.

"Everybody else is making it a bigger deal than what it was," Swedish defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. "We got in three hours later than expected, but we got everything done that we wanted to do before bedtime. Sometimes you can't really do anything about the weather. We can just control what we can control, and it just played out that way. I don't think it was a big deal."

The NHL built an extra travel day into the schedule, a good thing because this is the farthest apart two finalists have been in league history: 2,543 miles (4,092 kilometers) between their home arenas.

Typically, the teams fly from the first city to the second after Game 2, and the Oilers followed that plan to go home while the Panthers opted for another night in their own beds and a practice in their own arena.

"We pay a bunch of really smart people to have better answers than we do," Maurice said. "This is the way we do it. We have reasons for it. It's reasoned. And I'm 100% good with it."

Good with it because they arrived but not until after air traffic controllers in Edmonton had a little fun with the situation. According to audio posted on social media, they joked to the pilots that they would be holding up landing long enough to run out of fuel and divert to another airport.

"The last call you guys need is (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman calling the ATC," one of them says, laughing.

There was plenty of laughing and joking around going on before and during the flight. Equipment managers returning to the practice rink soaking wet from loading gear got standing ovations, and the food kept coming.

"The coaches put on 7 pounds yesterday, Maurice said. "That's the only ramification. We ate 12 meals."

When players, coaches and staff were not eating, many were playing cards. Poker is one of the regular games taking place on the Panthers plane.

"The guys who played cards had a little bit more time to win or lose some money," Finnish forward Anton Lundell said. "Everybody had a great time, we had a great sleep and we had a great practice."

Practice included Aleksander Barkov participating after leaving Florida's Game 2 victory following a high hit from Edmonton's Leon Draisiatl, erasing whatever little worry there was about the captain and playoff MVP candidate not being available. The Panthers did their usual gameday routine and turned all the questions about their long travel day into a rallying point.

"We love adversity — we got some more team bonding time," said Evan Rodrigues, who scored a series-best three goals in the first two games. "We didn't care. If we had to leave this morning, we would've left this morning. It's no excuses this time of the year, and we would've embraced the challenge. It was a unique experience. It was some serious rain coming down but obviously happy to make it."

Asked about their opponents getting in late, Edmonton's Dylan Holloway did not have much sympathy.

Quite the opposite.

"Definitely heard about it," Holloway said. "And not mad about it."

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL

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Stephen Whyno

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