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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Bruins at Panthers, Game 1: Barkov and Tkachuk Together

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Matthew Tkachuk and Sasha Barkov will start Monday’s Game 1 against the Boston Bruins on the top line together. // AP Photos

FORT LAUDERDALE — As the Florida Panthers open up their second-round series against the Boston Bruins, captain Sasha Barkov will begin the series with a brand new linemate: Matthew Tkachuk.

“Yeah, I guess I have to like him,” Barkov joked.

“He’s an unreal player and an unreal human being so it’s great to have that type of linemate. He talks a lot about hockey and all the good things and he knows the game really well so it’s exciting just to be with him and talk about the shifts, the game, and different plays. You learn so much from him.”

The two Florida stars played sparingly at the end of games in the past two seasons and on the power play, but Monday’s Game 1 will mark the first time the two opened a game together at 5-on-5 since Tkachuk’s arrival in the summer of 2022.

Barkov had a front-row seat for what Tkachuk could do in the playoffs last year.

Tkachuk had five goals, 11 points and an overtime winner in that first-round series against Boston before finishing the postseason with 11 goals and 24 points.

In Barkov’s words, he was a sparkplug for them “in every series.”

Tkachuk is pretty excited about the prospect of playing with Barkov, too.

“I think that it’s something new for both of us,” Tkachuk said. “I know we played together with [Carter Verhaeghe] for a little bit at the beginning of last year and had a lot of success, so maybe they were just saving it for now and hopefully we can have some games like we did in Game 5. It’s an important series, it’s going to be a tight series and hopefully we can be one of the differences.”

In the short amount of time they’ve played together over the past two seasons — 377 minutes (or six full games) over the course of two regular seasons and 25 playoff games — they have looked pretty good.

Per the Miami Herald, Panthers have outscored opponents 32-13 (3-0 i the playoffs) and has a 271-183 edge in shots (20-18 in the playoffs).

Tkachuk and Barkov were together for just 6:55 at even strength during Florida’s series-clinching Game 5 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but Barkov and Tkachuk connected on a crucial goal, when the duo was jamming at the puck near the front of the net before the captain potted home the goal which gave them a two-goal lead in a 6-1 win.

“I think last game, they played a number of shifts together, but I see it on the power play,” Brandon Montour said. “They’re passing with each other. You see it all the time 5-on-4, 5-on-3, but 5-on-5 is the same way.

“They see each other, they’re obviously two great players. Matty is great down low, Barky obviously sees the game like no other and to have two guys lik that together, and then obviously the big shooter on the other side, definitely helps for our whole lineup.”

Coach Paul Maurice knew those two players together would be dominant, but he didn’t feel inclined to do so until he knew he could spread the wealth around the lineup.

Tkachuk’s chemistry with Sam Bennett usually had him penned on his wing for the majority of his Panthers career, but with Bennett out of the lineup, Maurice needed to change things up a bit.

And the emergence of Sam ReinhartAnton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen as a shutdown line that he could play against other teams’ best players gave him the confidence to make the move.

“The lines are together, but not because of that line,” Maurice said of the Barkov/Tkachuk duo. “It’s the Luostarinen, Lundell, Reinhart line. That’s why it got changed.

“Because, in the back half of the Boston series (last year) and then we had some injuries as well, that became a line that played against the other team’s best or the other team probably found that line on the road because it was the young line.  They’re just very, very strong on both sides of the puck and that was kind of why we put them together. We felt we needed to be able to change the matchup if we had to.”

PREPARED FOR GOALIE ROTATION

When the Boston Bruins entered the playoffs, coach Jim Montgomery said he would likely rotate between 2023 Vezina winner Linus Ullmark and breakout star Jeremy Swayman throughout the playoffs.

The rotation lasted two games, with Swayman and Ullmark trading games 1 and 2, and Swayman taking the net and running with it after winning Game 3. He finished the series 4-2 with a .950 save percentage and a 1.49 goals-against average.

But no matter who they put in net, the Panthers will be ready.

Swayman was first off the ice for the Bruins this morning, an indication he would start tonight.

“Both are elite goalies and both had incredible years,” Evan Rodrigues said. “It’s not like Linus didn’t play well in Game 2. It’s just that Swayman has been hot, so whoever they go with, it’s going to be huge to try and get in front of them and take their eyesight away because it seems like everything they’re seeing right now [isn’t] going in. So we need to get a lot of traffic and try to get on them early.”

GAME 1 NOTES

Sergei Bobrovsky will start in net for the Panthers.

Bennett (hand) is out for Game 1, but is progressing well after skating on his own for the past few days, per Maurice.

“He had a good skate yesterday, good skate today,” Maurice said. “He’s not far off. We’re happy with here it is.”

Andrew Peeke, the former Columbus defenseman from Parkland, has missed the past few games but is practicing with the Bruins again. He is not expected to play tonight.

Brandon Carlo missed the morning skate today after the birth of son on Sunday. Montgomery said Carlo could make it back for Game 1; if not, Derek Forbort would slide in.

Patrick Brown is expected to replace Jesper Boqvist on the fourth line.

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1) V. BOSTON BRUINS (A2)
BEST-OF-7 SERIES
GAME 1

PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS (0-0) LINES

23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 19 Matthew Tkachuk

27 Eetu Luostarinen // 15 Anton Lundell // 13 Sam Reinhart

17 Evan Rodrigues // 82 Kevin Stenlund // 10 Vladimir Tarasenko

21 Nick Cousins // 18 Steven Lorentz // 8 Kyle Okposo

42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad

77 Niko Mikkola //  62 Brandon Montour

91 Oliver Ekman-Larsson // 7 Dmitry Kulikov

72 Sergei Bobrovsky

41 Anthony Stolarz

Scratched: Ryan Lomberg, Tobias Bjornfot, Uvis Balinskis, Josh Mahura, Jonah Gadjovich, Spencer Knight, Rasmus Asplund, Mike Benning, Magnus Hellberg, Matt Kiersted, Will Lockwood, Mackie Samoskevich, Justin Sourdif, Patrick Giles

Injured: Sam Bennett (upper body)

PROJECTED BOSTON BRUINS (0-0) LINES

74 Jake DeBrusk // 18 Pavel Zacha // 88 David Pastrnak

63 Brad Marchand // 13 Charlie Coyle // 39 Morgan Geekie

21 James van Riemsdyk // 11 Trent Frederic // 55 Justin Brazeau

19 John Beecher // 38 Patrick Brown // 61 Pat Maroon

6 Mason Lohrei // 73 Charlie McAvoy

27 Hampus Lindholm // 25 Brandon Carlo

29 Parker Wotherspoon // 12 Kevin Shattenkirk

1 Jeremy Swayman

35 Linus Ullmark

Scratched: Jesper Boqvist, Derek Forbort, Jakub Lauko, Michael DiPietro, Andrew Peeke

Injured: Danton Heinen (undisclosed)

Boston Bruins Lines Courtesy NHL.Com

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