Defense is his focal point, but Gustav Forsling providing timely offense for Panthers

Gustav Forsling has made it known multiple times through the Florida Panthers’ Stanley Cup playoff run that his focus is on doing his job defensively above anything else.

That’s the logical thing to do, considering Forsling is one of the Panthers’ top defensemen.

But Forsling isn’t afraid to take the big shot when called upon.

That was on display during the third period of the Panthers’ 5-4 overtime loss in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers on Sunday.

After the Panthers won an offensive zone faceoff in the right circle, Forsling received a cross-ice pass from Matthew Tkachuk and rushed toward the net. As he got to to the left circle, Forsling fired a high snap shot that got over Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin and into the net for the game-tying goal.

“It was a big goal,” Forsling said. “We got the crowd with us and got rolling there.”

For the majority of the season, Forsling’s steady play usually came quietly. His impact generally comes from shutting down anything the opposition is trying to do offensively — breaking up passes, clogging lanes, chasing down pucks. It’s a big part of why he led the NHL in plus-minus (plus-56) in the regular season.

He’s still playing that lockdown defense in the playoffs, but he’s also coming up with big moments offensively. Forsling enters Game 4 with three goals and nine points through 14 playoff games. Those three goals:

A booming slap shot from the point with two seconds left in the second period of Game 2 against the Boston Bruins to give Florida a two-goal lead in an eventual 6-1 rout.

A wrist shot off a rebound with about a minute-and-a-half left in regulation that served as the game-winner and series-clincher for the Panthers in their 2-1 win in Game 6 against the Bruins.

The third-period snap shot against the Rangers on Sunday.

“The joke is if he keeps going, he’s going to be leading our team in scoring by the end of this thing,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “We won’t hold him back. He cracks that bar off the rush and that’s a guy who’s confident he can shoot the puck. He’s scored some big goals. He’s feeling it.”

It’s the latest sign of how far Forsling has come since he joined the Panthers. When the Panthers acquired him ahead of the 2021 season, he had already been traded once (by the Vancouver Canucks, who drafted him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft) and waived twice (by the Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes).

He quickly became a mainstay for the Panthers and has evolved into one of the top defensemen in the league. He signed an eight-year contract extension with Florida in March.

“I never felt Gustav was ever under-confident. There’s no arrogance in the man,” Maurice said. “For a guy that had to kind of scratch and claw, there might be some doubt sometimes in there. Just never really saw it from him because all you look at is this is the process that he’s gone through. He works so hard every day. He was just getting better and better. ... You’ve seen the natural ascension of a man that has done absolutely everything he can do to max himself out.”

Forsling, however, said his game hasn’t changed all that much.

“I’m still trying to have a good gap and shut the other opponents down,” Forsling said.