Matthew Tkachuk scored a power-play goal with 4.9 seconds remaining, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 36 shots to cap off a brilliant drive, and the Florida Panthers earned their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 27 years by beating the Carolina Hurricanes 4 -3 on Wednesday night to win the Eastern Conference title in a sweep.
Tkachuk’s goal was the second of the night, and perhaps the biggest in Panthers history. The Panthers will play in Las Vegas or Dallas for the Stanley Cup starting next week; Vegas currently leads the Western Conference title series 3-0.
The Panthers scored 10 goals in the series, and Bobrovsky made sure those were all they needed. Four games, four one-goal wins, three of them by Tkachuk in dramatic fashion: two in overtime to end Games 1 and 2, and then this one to cap Florida’s stunning rise from the No. 8 seed to the Eastern champions .
Ryan Lomberg and Anthony Duclair had the other goals for Florida, which swept a series for the first time in franchise history.
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Jordan Staal, his brothers Eric and Marc play for the Panthers, received a tripping penalty with 57 seconds remaining in regulation, setting up the power play that Tkachuk finished off.
Jesper Fast seemed to have saved the season for Carolina, getting a game-tying goal with 3:22 remaining in regulation. Paul Stastny and Teuvo Teravainen scored the first two goals of the night for the Hurricanes, while Brady Skjei and Jordan Martinook each had two assists.
But the night, the series, was from the Panthers. They were swept by Colorado in the 1996 final.
The tone was set early. Duclair scored 41 seconds into the contest, and not a minute later Florida’s Sam Bennett delivered a hard but clean, no-kick in the sense that it drew no penalty on Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin behind the Hurricanes’ net.
Towels waved, strobe lights flashed, and fans wasted no time letting the Panthers know they were ready for a clincher.
ALL-STAR CAPTAIN JAMIE BENN SUSPENDED TWO GAMES AFTER A CROSS CHECK ON THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS’ MARK STONE
Tkachuk made it 2-0 on the power play halfway through the first. Carolina, a division championship-winning team with 113 points in the regular season, made it 2-1 later in the first on Stastny’s goal, and Teravainen tied the score early in the second.
Lomberg’s goal midway through the second gave Florida the lead again. It stayed that way until Fast got the tie with 3:22 remaining, and then Tkachuk finished it off to lead the Panthers to the title round in his first season.
AROUND THE TRACK
Panthers general manager Bill Zito was announced Wednesday as a finalist for the NHL General Manager of the Year award. Tkachuk’s two goals gave him 21 playoff points extending his Florida single-season postseason record, which was 17 by Dave Lowry in 1996. Slavin was promptly ruled out for the remainder of the game after Bennett’s hit, with what the Hurricanes said was «an upper body injury.» Slavin staggered 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, beat the drum before the game. When he was done, without a microphone to drop, he simply dropped the mallet in his place.
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EDGE OF TWO GOALS
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 moment of action came with the score tied or someone up by one in the first 272 minutes (including all overtimes) of the series.