The Florida Panthers are headed to the 2024 NHL Playoffs. However, the team received an injury scare on Saturday night. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson suffered an upper-body injury against the Buffalo Sabres. He did not return to the game after receiving a little more than three minutes of ice time.

After the game, head coach Paul Maurice provided an update on the veteran rearguard. And the update is rather hopeful for Panthers fans. “We fully expect him to be ready [for Game 1]. He probably could’ve got through the game, but there didn’t seem to be much value in that. He just tightened up,” Maurice said, via Panthers digital content manager Jameson Olive.

The Panthers gained a bit of momentum ahead of the NHL Playoffs. Florida took the Sabres into overtime but eventually came away with a win. Sam Reinhart scored his 55th goal of the season to stay alive in the race for the Atlantic Division title.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson has bounced back

Florida Panthers defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (91) looks on against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the second period at Amerant Bank Arena.
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last few years, Oliver Ekman-Larsson hasn't had the greatest time on the ice. He was once considered one of the best offensive defensemen in the game. However, a trade from the Arizona Coyotes to the Vancouver Canucks saw the veteran rearguard decline in terms of productivity.

To be fair, it wasn't necessarily his fault. Ekman-Larsson struggled with injuries during his time in Western Canada. More specifically, he dealt with two foot issues as a member of the Canucks. Last summer, Vancouver bought him out of his contract. This allowed the veteran blueliner to sign a one-year contract with the Panthers.

So far, the 14-year veteran has played well. He has nine goals and 32 points in 80 games this year. He is also having an impact off the ice. The Panthers defender was named as the team's nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy, which is awarded to a player who demonstrates sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Panthers are Stanley Cup contenders

Oliver Ekman-Larsson was not with the team when they went to the Stanley Cup Final last season. However, he could help the team make a return to the final round this summer. The Panthers are one of the best teams in the league this season. And they enter the NHL Playoffs as favorites to win it all.

Florida is hoping to avenge their defeat to the Vegas Golden Knights last year. They went on a Cinderella-esque run to the final, barely sneaking into the dance to begin with. This season, they could enter as champions of the Atlantic Division. In that case, they would face one of the two wild-card teams in the East.

If they fail to win the division, their opponent is already known. Florida will enter a rematch with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Panthers met Toronto in the second round last year and dominated. Florida defeated Auston Matthews and company in five games en route to the Eastern Conference Final.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the Panthers are set to make noise this summer. They have responded well to Paul Maurice this season. Let's see if they keep up their level of play once the NHL Playoffs begin in one week's time.