The Florida Panthers get their sharp ends back

Matthew Tkachuk and Sergei Bobrovsky pull the Cats' ass out of a sling

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Florida Panthers LW Matthew Tkachuk is congratulated by C Carter Verhaeghe after scoring a tying goal in the
 third period of Game 3
Florida Panthers LW Matthew Tkachuk is congratulated by C Carter Verhaeghe after scoring a tying goal in the third period of Game 3
Photo: Rebecca Blackwell (AP)

Most want to attribute some kind of special potion or Cornwallis-like strategy cooked up by coach Paul Maurice and GM Bill Zito to explain the Florida Panthers’ success. After all, there has to be something mystical that got the lowest-seeded team to the Stanley Cup Final. But it isn’t that hard. Matthew Tkachuk and Sergei Bobrovsky have balled out. And they did so again in Game 3, when the Panthers absolutely had to have it, otherwise, their journey of tripping the light fantastic would have been over.

The Knights had the Panthers dazed, on the ropes, and barely keeping their guard up a couple times in Game 3. They absolutely kicked the Panthers up and down the ice in the 2nd period, outshooting them 13-8 but the 88.9 percent share in expected goals in the frame tells its own story. And that’s at even strength, not including the power plays where Vegas looked lethal all night and netted from Jonathan Marchessault off this gorgeous Jack Eichel feed.


On another night, the Knights would have ended the Panthers’ interest in this game and series in that second period with another goal, but Sergei Bobrovsky wasn’t having it.


That’s been half the formula for the Panthers, and the other half got his head out of his ass last night. Though with Matthew Tkachuk, his head is always at least orbiting his own rectum. It’s something of his charm, at least to his fans. That’s his game, to be as annoying as possible, drive everyone nuts, and then score.

The remarkable thing about Tkachuk’s playoff run is that it is the antithesis of what playoff hockey usually is. The beauty, as some would tell it, is that the big moments in the playoffs can fall to anyone. Rarely do you get to put the puck on your best player’s stick with the clock running down, and even rarer does that player keep finding twine with the biggest goals in the team’s history. Tkachuk is having Nikola Jokic’s postseason, if Jokic was also hitting buzzer-beaters every other game. Tkachuk already has three OT winners to his name, and with the Panthers’ hopes getting the last rites in Game 3, there he was in his office to rescue them:

Can’t stop Tkachuk

Every opponent in these playoffs has had Tkachuk first on the priority list of who to look out for, and yet no one’s been able to stop him from getting to the net or making plays. He just has an otherworldly sense of finding space and loose pucks and obviously, a finishing touch around the net that you can’t teach. It happens far too often to just be good luck or “the puck just finding him.”


Making this more impressive is that the Knights had done a masterful job all night of keeping the Panthers out of the slot, forcing them to fire shots from faraway lands that were easily blocked (Vegas had 31 shot blocks in the game). Any loose puck around Aiden Hill was immediately cleared by the Vegas defense and the amount of time and space the Panthers had from anywhere between the circles was at the asphyxiation level. You can see the disparity in the shot chart here at

Tkachuk also set up the first goal for the Panthers with this fiendish pass to Brandon Montour that completely bamboozled Mark Stone, one of the better defensive forwards in the game.


The scores have been a little lopsided in the first two games of the Final, but the actual play has been pretty even. The Panthers found themselves up to the neck in an ant-hill because Bobrovsky was playing goal like it was his first yoga class and Tkachuk was too busy chasing hits and penalties. The Panthers didn’t stop taking dumbass penalties in Game 3. They gave away six power plays and none of them would have been considered necessary. But they got away with it because Tkachuk was the best skater in the game and Bobrovsky the better of the two goalies.

It’s a simple formula, but it’s gotten them this far, and it only has to go a little further.


Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.