Tkachuk sends Panthers to Stanley Cup Final, after topping Hurricanes 4-3 for sweep

panthers stanley cup final
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SUNRISE, Fla. — Matthew Tkachuk delivered for Florida, again. Sergei Bobrovsky denied Carolina, again.

The wait is over: After 27 years, the Florida Panthers – a hockey punchline no more – are again going to play for the game’s grandest prize.

Tkachuk got his second goal of the game with 4.9 seconds left, lifting the Panthers past the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 and into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1996 after sweeping the Eastern Conference final.

The Panthers will play either Vegas or Dallas for the Stanley Cup starting sometime next week; Vegas currently leads the Western Conference title series 3-0.

“This was pure joy,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.

Bobrovsky stopped 36 shots to cap his stellar series – four games, four one-goal wins, three of them basically in sudden death, a .966 save percentage after stopping 174 of the 180 shots he faced. The first two wins were in overtime, and this one may as well have been.

The Panthers scored 10 goals in the series, and Bobrovsky ensured those were all they needed. They were the No. 8 seed, the last team in, the longest of long shots – which is consistent with their history, after not winning a single playoff series in 26 years, a drought that ended last season.

And now, beasts of the East. Tkachuk arrived last summer saying he wanted to bring Florida a Cup. He’s four wins away.

“It’s amazing,” Bobrovsky said. “We showed the resilience … and we’re lucky to have Chucky on our side. He knows how to score big goals.”

NHL Senior Vice President Brian Jennings was the one tasked with presenting the Prince of Wales Trophy. After some photos, Aleksander Barkov – the captain who had two assists, one of them on the game-winner – grabbed it, and skated it away. Some teams touch it. Some don’t. A few of the Panthers did, but Barkov didn’t pass it around.

That’ll wait for the big prize.

“It’s hard to explain right now. Everything just happened so quick,” Barkov said. “It means a lot. It definitely does. … It hasn’t been easy and nobody said it’s going to be easy.”

Added Tkachuk: “We earned that thing, and definitely didn’t do it the easy way. We earned it.”

Ryan Lomberg and Anthony Duclair had the other goals for Florida, which swept a series for the first time in franchise history.

Jordan Staal – his brothers Eric and Marc play for the Panthers – took a tripping penalty with 57 seconds left in regulation, setting up the power-play that Tkachuk finished off after getting into the slot and beating Frederik Andersen to set off a wild celebration.

“Eastern Conference champions,” Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “It’s really cool. No doubt about it. But you know, at the end of the day, we have our eyes on something different.”

Toy rats – the Panthers’ tradition, a nod to the unwanted locker room guests from Florida’s old arena in 1996 – sailed down from the stands, and the goal needed to survive an official review. But the rats were picked up, the goal was deemed good, and 27 years of waiting was officially over 4.9 seconds later.

Jesper Fast seemed like he might have saved the season for Carolina, getting a tying goal with 3:22 left in regulation. Paul Stastny and Teuvo Teravainen had the first two goals of the night for the Hurricanes, while Brady Skjei and Jordan Martinook each had two assists. Andersen stopped 21 shots.

“Everyone’s going to say, ‘You got swept.’ That’s not what happened,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I watched the game. I’m there. I’m cutting the games. We’re in the game. We didn’t lose four games. We got beat, but we were right there. This could have went the other way. It could have been four games the other way.”

That wasn’t sour grapes. He was right. A bounce here, a bounce there, a Bobrovsky not here, a Bobrovsky not there, and this series could have gone much differently.

But Bob was his best. Tkachuk was clutch, over and over. And Florida is as close to a Cup as it has ever been; the Panthers were swept by Colorado in the 1996 final.

Towels waved, strobe lights flashed, and the fans wasted no time letting the Panthers know that they were ready to a clincher.

Tkachuk made it 2-0 on the power play midway through the first. Carolina – a 113-point, division-championship-winning team in the regular season – made it 2-1 later in the first on Stastny’s goal, and Teravainen tied it early in the second.

Lomberg’s goal midway through the second gave Florida the lead again. It stayed that way until Fast got the equalizer with 3:22 left, and then Tkachuk finished it off – getting the Panthers to the title round in his first season.

“It’s been unbelievable since July since I got here,” Tkachuk said. “And hopefully we can cap off this amazing year.”


Panthers general manager Bill Zito was announced earlier Wednesday as a finalist for NHL GM of the year. … Tkachuk’s two goals gave him 21 points in the playoffs – extending his Florida single-season postseason record, which was 17 by Dave Lowry in 1996. … Slavin was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game after Bennett’s hit, with what the Hurricanes said was “an upper-body injury.” Slavin wobbled as he tried to get to his feet. … Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel – who has also been a regular at Miami Heat games during their playoff run this spring – banged the drum before the game. When done, without a mic to drop, he simply dropped the mallet instead.


Tkachuk’s goal midway through the opening period put Florida up 2-0 – and marked the first time, in nearly 14 periods of play to that point, that a team had a two-goal lead in this series. Every bit of action came with the score tied or someone up by one in the first 272 minutes (including all the overtimes) of the series.

Bobrovsky gets shutout, Panthers top Hurricanes 1-0 for 3-0 lead in East final

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

SUNRISE, Fla. – Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 32 shots for his first career playoff shutout, Sam Reinhart scored a power-play goal midway through the second period and the Florida Panthers moved one win away from a most improbable trip to the Stanley Cup Final by blanking the Carolina Hurricanes 1-0 on Monday night.

Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett had the assists on the Reinhart goal for Florida, which now leads the Eastern Conference final 3-0. The Panthers haven’t played for the Stanley Cup since 1996, but can clinch a trip to the title round with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday.

This marks the 205th time that a team has taken a 3-0 series lead in NHL playoff history. Of the first 204, 200 went on to win the series. The Panthers are 2-0 when taking the first three games of a series; the Hurricanes are 0-5 when dropping the first three.

It wasn’t a perfect night for Florida, however: Captain Aleksander Barkov left with about 7 minutes left in the first period with a lower-body injury and did not return, even though the team listed him as questionable.

Bobrovsky got the shutout in his 58th playoff start. He is now 10-1 in his last 11 appearances and has been almost perfect in the last eight games.

Going back to Game 1 of Round 2 against Toronto, Bobrovsky has not allowed more than two goals in any contest, with 296 saves on 309 shots.

Frederik Andersen stopped 16 shots for Carolina. The Hurricanes pulled him with 3:22 left, desperate for the tying goal, barely even managed to test Bobrovsky the rest of the way.

It was the first East final game in the Panthers’ current arena – the franchise’s only other time going this deep into the playoffs was 1996, when it played in Miami at a building that was demolished long ago.

It also likely was the first time that they played with the Wanamaker Trophy in attendance. Newly crowned PGA champion Brooks Koepka – a South Florida native and Panthers fan – put on a jersey and brought the big silver cup to the game.

The crowd roared when they saw him displaying the trophy he won Sunday. Of course, there is another silver trophy that Panthers fans would prefer seeing someone in their jersey hoisting before too long. And the eighth-seeded Panthers are only five wins away now, tantalizingly close to the trip to the final – a trip that few could have seen coming after barely making the playoffs and then having to get past a record-setting Boston team in Round 1 and Toronto in Round 2.

A pair of overtime wins in Carolina, with Tkachuk getting the winner both nights, and the win Monday now have Florida on the brink of June hockey.


Jeff Conine, who won two World Series titles with the then-Florida Marlins, beat the drum to get the crowd going just before game time. … It was the Panthers’ 98th game of the season. This will be the second season in which Florida has more than 100 games; the most was 104 in the 1995-96 season that ended in the Stanley Cup Final. … Carolina was shut out for the seventh time this season, with two of those coming at Florida. The Hurricanes lost 3-0 in Sunrise on Nov. 9.


There has been 261 minutes, 38 seconds of hockey in this series – just over 13 periods, thanks to all the overtimes – and neither team has led by more than one goal at any time.

Barkov leaves Game 3 of Florida-Carolina series with lower body injury after hit

Florida Panthers
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SUNRISE, Fla. – Florida captain Aleksander Barkov left Game 3 of the Panthers’ Eastern Conference finals matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night with a lower body injury.

The Panthers listed him as questionable to return, with no other specifics offered on the nature of the problem.

Barkov took a hit from Carolina’s Jack Drury with about 7 minutes left in the opening period, without any obvious signs of major discomfort afterward. Barkov returned to the Florida bench after the shift and took a seat briefly before talking with someone from the Panthers’ medical staff and departing for the locker room.

He was appearing to favor his left side as he left the bench and went up the tunnel. The Panthers announced the diagnosis midway through the second period.

Barkov had four goals and eight assists for 12 points in Florida’s first 14 games in this playoff run. The Panthers entered Monday with a 2-0 lead in the East finals, trying to get to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1996.

Tkachuk scores another OT winner, lifting Panthers to 2-0 series lead vs Hurricanes

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

RALEIGH, N.C. – Matthew Tkachuk finished a feed from Sam Reinhart at the 1:51 mark of overtime to help the Florida Panthers beat the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 on Saturday night for a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference final.

Less than two days after scoring the winner in a four-overtime thriller, Tkachuk came through again, this time on the power play after a faceoff win by the Panthers. Sam Bennett sent a pass to the left side for Reinhart, who zipped the puck across to Tkachuk for the easy finish against a sprawled-out Antti Raanta.

Tkachuk immediately skated toward the door on the boards leading to the Florida locker room, motioning to his teammates that it was time to roll out and celebrate.

It marked Tkachuk’s third overtime winner in the playoffs, which includes a Game 5 road win in the first-round upset of Boston following the Bruins’ record-setting regular season. And just like that, Florida won on the road for the eighth straight time in the playoffs – including starting 2-0 on the road in back-to-back series – and improved to 6-0 in overtime in the postseason.

Aleksander Barkov added a highlight-reel goal for Florida in the second period, while Sergei Bobrovsky again befuddled Carolina with 37 stops.

Jalen Chatfield scored Carolina’s lone goal in the opening minutes, while Raanta finished with 24 saves.

Each team also had a goal overturned on a video-review challenge for an unpenalized offsides while entering the zone leading up to the scores.

Florida has home-ice advantage for the next two games, starting Monday with Game 3 in Sunrise. The Panthers are now two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1996, which also marks their last appearance in the East final.

The Panthers took the series opener in epic fashion, beating the Hurricanes on Tkachuk’s goal with 12.7 seconds left in the fourth OT early Friday to end the sixth-longest game in NHL postseason history – along with the longest game in the history of each franchise.

The hours since had become what Panthers coach Paul Maurice called “a race to recover” with both teams paying a “huge cost.” Neither practiced Friday nor had a team morning skate Saturday, opting to utilize every available moment of rest.

Florida stuck with its Game 1 lineup, including Bobrovsky after his 60-save performance. But the Hurricanes swapped goaltenders after Frederik Andersen’s heavy workload and started Raanta, who started the first five games of the postseason and had gone 19-3-3 during the regular season.

Bobrovsky was just as sharp as in Game 1, particularly against Carolina’s withering start that included holding Florida to one shot through the first 13 minutes. He came up with multiple big stops, most notably when he made it across the crease in time to get to Teuvo Teravainen’s backdoor attempt with his blocker after Martin Necas’ quick feed in the second.

Carolina rode the emotion from a roaring crowd for a fast start, with Sebastian Aho firing a loose rebound back toward the crease to Chatfield – who deflected the puck past Bobrovsky just 1:43 into the game.

Yet Florida responded in the second with Barkov’s gorgeous goal. He got loose and alone with Raanta after Florida had won a battle along the boards and got the puck to its captain.

Barkov started to slide the puck between his legs, freezing Raanta for a potential flip toward the net. But Barkov pulled the puck back forward and under his left skate and smoothly backhanded it into the net at 7:43 of the second to tie it at 1-1.

Matthew Tkachuk ends 6th-longest game in NHL history, Panthers outlast Hurricanes 3-2 in 4th OT

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

RALEIGH, N.C. — Back and forth they went, the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes playing a game that seemed destined to have no end while leaving legs growing wobbly with each passing minute.

Then, just as the teams appeared headed for yet another extra period, Matthew Tkachuk pounced on his chance to finish off yet another overtime and road victory for the Panthers in these playoffs.

Tkachuk beat Frederik Andersen in the final seconds of the fourth overtime to give the Panthers a 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.

Tkachuk took a feed from Sam Bennett after Florida won a battle for the puck as Carolina tried to clear it from the zone, then whipped a shot from the right circle past Andersen with 12.7 seconds left.

That sent Tkachuk racing toward center ice to celebrate with teammates in what turned into the longest game in the history of either franchise, as well as the sixth-longest game in NHL history.

“Definitely, tired but I think you’re less tired when you win,” Tkachuk said, adding: “I hope you guys and everybody else enjoyed that game, because what I’m seeing is two really good teams fighting it out for every inch.”

Florida won its seventh straight road game in these playoffs and improved to 5-0 in overtime. Game 2 is in Raleigh, less than 48 hours after the teams played more than two full games worth of hockey.

This one ended roughly six hours after the puck drop.

“We didn’t even know what overtime we were in,” Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg said.

Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe scored in regulation for the Panthers, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 63 saves in what turned into a goaltender battle as the game got more ragged and players racked up the ice time.

Andersen finished with 57 saves for Carolina, which got power-play goals from Seth Jarvis and Stefan Noesen.

“It was a good goalie battle,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “It was unfortunate we just couldn’t find one.”

Tkachuk finally ended a game that had multiple wild sequences in critical late moments.

Most notably, there was Lomberg appearing to have the winning goal in his return to Florida’s lineup from injury, beating Jalen Chatfield in a battle and then whipping the puck by Andersen 2 1/2 minutes into the first OT.

But Carolina successfully challenged the play for goaltender interference. Replays showed Florida’s Colin White – while being bumped by Carolina’s Jack Drury – making skate-to-skate contact with Andersen, then bumping him as Andersen ended up on all fours on the other side of the crease before Lomberg’s shot found the net.

Later in that first OT, Jarvis – who had the game’s first goal on a power-play blast from the slot – nearly ended it on a loose rebound but rang the crossbar.

It turned out, the game was nowhere near its epic finish.

Florida hadn’t been to an Eastern Conference final since 1996, before a large chunk of its roster had even been born. But these Panthers had turned a late surge to qualify for the final wild-card spot into a postseason-shaking moment by taking down Boston following the Bruins’ record-setting 65 wins and 135 points, followed by beating a Toronto team buzzing off its first series win in nearly two decades.

Now the Panthers have handed the Hurricanes – who had the league’s second-best regular-season record – their first series deficit of the postseason.

Carolina is in the Eastern final for the second time in five years. The last time, it was a feel-good surprise for a young core that had just ended a nine-year postseason drought. They had since accomplished the goal of building a consistent winner and Cup contender, though second-round exits the past two seasons on home ice had cast a damper on some of that sustained success.

This time, Carolina beat the New York Islanders in six games and then the New Jersey Devils in five to make it back. But on a night when both teams had plenty of chances to end this one in any of the OTs, Carolina ended up losing its ninth straight game in the conference-final round dating to 2009 in brutal fashion.

“It was kind of really who was going to make the last mistake,” Carolina captain Jordan Staal said. “Unfortunately, it was us.”


The longest game in NHL history came on March 24, 1936, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in the sixth overtime on Mud Bruneteau’s goal at 116 minutes, 30 seconds of extra play.


Florida’s previous record for longest game was 104:31 in Game 4 of the 1996 Stanley Cup final against Colorado. Carolina’s previous record was 114:47 for Game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup final. The teams each lost those games.


Carolina’s losing streak in the NHL semifinals dates to Pittsburgh’s sweep of the Hurricanes in 2009 when Maurice was in his second stint as Carolina’s coach. Boston then swept the Hurricanes a decade later.


Both teams welcomed back forwards from lengthy injuries.

Carolina’s Teuvo Teravainen hadn’t played since suffering what the team described as a hand injury in Game 2 of the first-round series against the New York Islanders. The injury required surgery on April 20 and left him with a scar running the length of his left thumb.

Lomberg had missed eight straight games due to an upper-body injury.