The first two games of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final were the least of Brandon Montour’s worries this weekend.
When the star defenseman got off the ice following the Florida Panthers’ series-opening loss to the Golden Knights on Friday, Paul Maurice and Bill Zito were waiting for him to break some big news: His wife, Ryian Montour, was in the hospital, ready to give birth to the couple’s first child.
The original due date was June 18. They were planning to induce next Wednesday, after a potential Game 5.
“Change of schedule, obviously,” Montour said.
Instead, he hopped on a plane in Las Vegas by 11 p.m. on Saturday and was in Boca Raton by 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, there to be there when Kai Montour arrived right around noon.
The 29-year-old Canadian was then back on a plane by 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. The Panthers had another game to play Monday at T-Mobile Arena.
“Luckily, I was there for it all and got to experience it with her,” Montour said.
Until he got back to Florida, there was stress.
Montour took a private plane from Nevada and was the only one on it. He didn’t sleep a wink, he said, and most of the five-hour flight checking his phone for updates from his and her parents.
“They didn’t think I was going to make it, so I honestly didn’t sleep at all,” Montour said. “I got right there to Boca and went to the delivery room, and it was kind of game on from there. He came at noon. I was there 6:30. We were joking: As soon as I got there, it was straight to work for her.”
Although they’re in a 2-0 series hole to the Golden Knights with Game 3 set for Thursday at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, the Panthers had reason to celebrate this weekend because of the Montours and their top defenseman’s chaotic journey to see his new son arrive in the world.
“He got his frequent-flyer miles in, but good that he was there for it,” coach Paul Maurice said. “Monty’s a physical specimen. He can handle a little fatigue and I think it was just a good way for him to get used to becoming a father.”
Luostarinen remains out, Gudas returns
Forward Eetu Luostarinen will miss his third straight game with a lower-body injury Thursday, but defenseman Radko Gudas is expected back in the lineup for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after leaving Game 2 on Monday with an injury.
Neither practiced Wednesday in South Florida nor did star defenseman Aaron Ekblad, although he will also be available for Game 3.
“We expect the lineup to be the same options,” Maurice said.
Gudas, 33, left in the first period of Game 2 after taking a hit to the head from Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev and was unable to return in Florida’s blowout loss.
Luostarinen has yet to play in the Cup Final after getting hurt in the final game of the Eastern Conference finals last month. The 24-year-old Finn typically plays left wing on the third line and Florida has tried two different ways to replace him in the first two games of the Final.
In Game 1, forward Zac Dalpe rejoined the lineup for the first time since Round 2, playing right wing on the fourth line. In Game 2, defenseman Casey Fitzgerald took Luostarinen’s place — it was his first appearance since Round 1 — and the Panthers played seven defensemen and just 11 forwards.
Left wing Ryan Lomberg has bumped up to the third line with Luostarinen out.
Florida is also sticking with Sergei Bobrovsky in net, even after Maurice benched the star goaltender midway through Game 2. The 34-year-old Russian has a .925 save percentage in the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs and leads the postseason with 17.3 goals saved above expected, according to MoneyPuck.com.
“You guys have too much time on your hands,” the first-year coach said, addressing spectulation he might turn back to goaltender Alex Lyon, who began the postseason as the starter. “He was outstanding in Game 1 and he was as good as our team was in Game 2, and 48 hours before that you’ve got Tkachuk and Bobrovsky, how are they going to divide the Conn Smythe?”