The Florida Panthers are off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1996 after Matthew Tkachuk scored the game-winner with 4.9 seconds left in regulation to complete the sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Panthers won the game 4-3. Tkachuk scored twice, while Anthony Duclair and Ryan Lomberg netted one apiece.
Tkachuk’s winner is the latest series-winning goal in regulation in Stanley Cup Playoffs history, matching the NHL record set by Nick Metz of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942, per Sportsnet.
It was Tkachuk’s third game-winner of the series; he notched the overtime winners in Games 1 and 2. The Hart Trophy finalist is up to nine goals and 12 assists in 16 postseason contests.
“Who else, right?” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said postgame, per The Athletic’s Michael Russo. “What he’s done is unexplainable.”
The Panthers led 3-2 midway through the second period until Jesper Fast notched the equalizer for the Hurricanes with just over three minutes left in regulation, setting the table for Tkachuk’s heroics.
Sergei Bobrovsky was stellar between the pipes for Florida once again, as the Panthers prevailed in Game 4 despite being outshot 39-24. They were outshot in all four games, but Bobrovsky posted a sensational .966 save percentage in the series.
The Eastern Conference’s No. 8-seeded Panthers have now reeled off 11 wins in 12 games since trailing their Round 1 series 3-1 against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins.
“We’ve got a few weeks left of this, and hopefully they’re going to be the best weeks of our lives,” Tkachuk said postgame.
Florida was in a playoff spot for just 28% of the season, making the underdog Cats the only team in the NHL’s expansion era to reach the Cup Final after spending less than 30% of the season in a postseason spot.
The Panthers are apparently not overly superstitious, as numerous players touched the Prince of Wales Trophy for winning the Eastern Conference.
“We’re not the type of team that’s going to be superstitious,” Tkachuk said. “We earned that thing. We did it the hard way.”
The Panthers will make just their second-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. The Colorado Avalanche swept them in the 1996 final.
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