Panthers opt for veteran Kyle Okposo in Game 7 vs. Oilers

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers are giving their most experienced player a chance to be a Game 7 difference-maker.

Winger Kyle Okposo, 36, draws in for Monday's showdown against the Edmonton Oilers with the Stanley Cup on the line. Acquired by Florida at the trade deadline from Buffalo, Okposo has two points in 16 games this postseason. He draws in for Nick Cousins, who replaced Okposo in the lineup for Florida's Game 6 loss in Edmonton. Okposo is seeking the first Stanley Cup win of his 17-year career.

Panthers coach Paul Maurice said it was a "solely hockey based" decision, but a challenging one considering the circumstances.

"I just felt that looking back at the three previous games, Kyle had played slightly better. There are other options with Kyle, like how he comes off the bench in certain situations," said Maurice. "It's a difficult thing to do to take a Game 7 away from somebody. It's such a rare thing, and Nick is so incredibly loved by his team."

The Panthers are trying to avoid one of the most calamitous collapses in sports history, as only one team in NHL has ever taken a 3-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final and then ended up losing the series.

"We lost the last three games. I don't know if you guys are aware of that," Maurice quipped. "But really liked our Game 5 [at home]. That was by far our best game. We're not far off from that.

Maurice said before Game 6 that he felt the pressure in the series had "evened out" between the teams. But now, with the Cup on the line in Sunrise, he said the pressure might not even be a factor other than as motivation off the start.

"I think Game 7s are just a completely unique animal. I don't think it relates in terms of pressure to anything, because there is no tomorrow. So it's a completely different feel," he said. "I think we've been immersed in the weight of it for a week. There's not a new experience for us in this other than it's also a Game 7. I think both teams come out as flat-out fast as they possibly can. I think that's going to be the manifestation of all of this."

Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who did not practice on Sunday, took part in an optional skate on Monday morning at the Panthers' practice facility.

"I liked his last game. I thought he was strong and solid," said Maurice. "Now, we were kind to him. We didn't give him a shorthanded breakaway to start the game. I thought that was good for us. Cut down on those for him, we gave him a chance."