Video: Rangers beat Fleury just 28 seconds into series

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The Pittsburgh Penguins limped into the playoffs and that combined with the Penguins missing defensemen Christian Ehrhoff, Kris Letang, Derrick Pouliot, and Olli Maatta to a variety of injuries led to them being cast as the underdogs in their first round series against the New York Rangers.

Of course, as long as the Penguins feature Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, they can’t be ruled out entirely, but they weren’t able to take advantage of the fresh start that the playoffs afforded them.

The Rangers needed just 28 seconds to take a 1-0 lead as Derick Brassard took advantage of a big rebound created by Rick Nash’s shot:

The silver lining when it comes to falling behind early is there is plenty of time to regain the lead. That being said, the Penguins were 10-18-5 in games when they fell behind 1-0 in the regular season.

Matthew Tkachuk returns from big hit in Stanley Cup Final, adds more playoff heroics

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Matthew Tkachuk was down, out briefly and then back with plenty of time to make a difference.

The Florida Panthers star left early in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after a big hit from Vegas Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, and he missed most of the first period and didn’t return immediately following intermission while being evaluated for a concussion. After looking as if he might be lost for the night, Tkachuk returned in the second and then came through with more of his now trademark playoff heroics.

Tkachuk scored the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation, forcing overtime and giving the Panthers new life. He then provided the screen on Carter Verhaeghe‘s OT goal for a 3-2 victory that cut Florida’s series deficit to 2-1.

The 25-year-old said he knew he was coming back when he left the game, pulled by concussion spotters. That absence felt like a long time ago in the aftermath of another big win he was largely responsible for.

“I felt great – I feel great,” Tkachuk said. “I’m ready to go. Everybody’s excited that we’re in this position right now.”

Florida is in this position rather than facing elimination in Game 4 on Saturday thanks in large part to Tkachuk, who also set up Brandon Montour‘s goal that opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

Not long after, Tkachuk stumbled getting up after the hit from Kolesar and skated to the bench. He took a shift on Florida’s power play before going down the tunnel at the demand of concussion spotters mandated by NHL protocol.

At that point, there was zero clarity, even on the Florida bench.

“You’re not informed at all: It’s a complete shutdown,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You are completely in the dark on those. You don’t know when the player’s coming back. There’s not an update.”

Players insist they were not worried. Montour called it a no-brainer.

“He’s going to come back no matter what,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s really tough guy, and he’s going to battle through everything.”

Tkachuk rejoined his teammates on the bench a few minutes into the second. When he stepped back onto the ice for his first shift since leaving, fans cheered and chanted, “Chucky! Chucky!”

The crowd was even louder and threw rats when Tkachuk scored his biggest goal of many during this run to tie it. He didn’t get an assist on Verhaeghe’s goal but made it happen with a tape-to-tape pass in the neutral zone and was in front of Adin Hill when it happened.

Asked if he was happy Tkachuk returned, Maurice joked that it was after midnight.

“It was fine,” he quipped.

Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

Game 4 is Saturday night.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.

AROUND THE RINK

Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

Florida Panthers in familiar territory, backs to the wall once again down 0-2 in Stanley Cup Final

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Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sport
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SUNRISE, Fla. — The Panthers need a miracle. Again.

Such is the story of Florida’s season, and it makes all the sense in the world that the plot has reappeared in the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers needed a furious late-season push just to get into the playoffs as the lowest seed, then needed to win three consecutive elimination games to oust a record-setting Boston team in Round 1.

And now, another huge challenge awaits. Down 2-0 in the title series to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Panthers return to home ice on Thursday night looking to spark one more epic turnaround and get right back in the hunt for hockey’s biggest prize.

“Desperation and winning a game,” Florida veteran Marc Staal said. “We’ve approached every game in the playoffs the same way. We just try to take it – like everyone says – one at a time. But our backs are against the wall, obviously. We’re down by two. But we’re coming home. Love our team, love our resiliency. We’re going to go out and give our best effort and play our best game tomorrow and go from there.”

To say the odds are stacked high against the Panthers is a bit of an understatement.

– They’ve beaten Vegas in four of 12 all-time meetings between the franchises. And now they’ve got to beat them in four of the next five games to win the Cup.

– They’ve been outscored 10-2 in the last four periods against Vegas.

Matthew Tkachuk has two more misconduct penalties (three) than he has points (one, a goal) in the series.

– Former Panthers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have as many goals so far in the series (four) as all the current Panthers do in the series, combined.

– Vegas hasn’t dropped four out of five games since going 1-2-2 to start a six-game road swing that began in late January.

– Teams that start a Stanley Cup Final with two home wins have won the Cup 38 times in 41 past instances.

But by now, Florida’s penchant for pulling off the improbable is well-known. Almost expected, really.

“Of course, we’ve had three really tough series,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Boston is a good example. We were down, we found a way, we started playing a little better, we found a way to come back and get out of there. Same thing here – we’ve just got to work a little harder, work a little smarter and find a way to win games.”

They’ve done it before.

There was the 6-0-1 stretch late in the season to hold off Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The winning three elimination games against a Boston team that had the best regular season in NHL history in Round 1; Game 5 there was on the road in overtime, Game 6 required a rally late in the third period to erase a 5-4 deficit and Game 7 was another road OT victory. There was a four-overtime win at Carolina in the East final, setting the table for a sweep where the Panthers got four one-goal wins and allowed only six goals.

They’ve given up 12 goals in two games against Vegas. And it’s not all on Sergei Bobrovsky, either. Panthers coach Paul Maurice found it funny that it was considered a surprise to some that Bobrovsky – who carried Florida to the final round – will remain the starter for Game 3.

“He was outstanding in Game 1,” Maurice said. “And he was as good as our team was in Game 2.”

The message was simple: Everyone has to be better. The Panthers have a history of rising to those moments.

“We never lose doubt in this room,” Florida forward Ryan Lomberg said. “Obviously, they’re a good team. They got here for a reason. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s kind of the theme of our whole year is we make it tough. Whether we wanted it this way or not, it’s this way, so we’ve got to play the hand we’re dealt now.”

NOTES: Maurice said he expects D Radko Gudas, who left Game 2 injured, to play in Game 3. Forward Eetu Luostarinen will remain out. Maurice declined to offer specifics on Luostarinen’s injury, but quipped “he’s a good human.” … Thursday will be Florida’s first Stanley Cup Final game on home ice in FLA Live Arena. The Panthers’ 1996 final appearance was at a long-demolished arena in Miami.