SUNRISE — When the Florida Panthers needed him most, Matthew Tkachuk answered the call.
Tkachuk willed the Panthers to a 5-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night not only registering his first hat trick in Florida — but scoring three goals when his team seriously could have used them.
Florida came in losing eight of 12 and desperately needed a win.
Tkachuk started things up, got them going again then finished things off in front of a fired-up crowd announced at 19,484.
“We needed that,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.
”It felt like in a lot of our games we had that chance that wouldn’t go in. We have been down the pipe so many times this year in the slot and those are all exciting chances, but the goal where he pulls back and goes shortside shelf, that’s all hands.”
Those chances found their way onto Tkachuk’s stick like clockwork on Tuesday and the NHL’s anointed ‘Unicorn’ answered them in every way he possibly could.
To start the game, he wired a wrist shot from the bottom of the circle past Karel Vejmelka to put the Panthers up early.
When Florida desperately needed a goal to swing the momentum away from an Arizona team that erased a two-goal deficit, he delivered with a wide-angle shot from up close.
He finished them off by driving to the net and polishing off his own rebound.
Tkachuk would tell you that it was feeds by Barkov, Josh Mahura and Sam Reinhart which deserve the credit, but he was Florida’s star when they needed him to be.
His numbers back that up.
Tkachuk overtook the Panthers’ lead in goals with his first hat trick since arriving in Florida, becoming the team’s first 20-goal scorer this season.
His four points boosted him back into the Top 10 in the NHL in scoring, where he currently sits tied for eighth with 47.
Naturally, he still believes he do more.
“I think I have to be a lot better,” Tkachuk said. ”Guys were able to find me tonight and I was able to shoot the puck more and be around the net more, but I have a whole lot more to give on another level.”
It may be hard to believe Tkachuk could reach another level after finishing second behind only Connor McDavid with 121 points in the calendar year of 2022, but he believes it is there.
”I just think I need to be moving the feet a lot more,” Tkachuk said.
”I think I need to have the puck a lot more and put myself in position to get it and shoot more. I always try to be at the net but I have to be doing that every game.”
Maurice believes that next level can come on the defensive end of the ice.
“The other level would be without the puck,” Maurice said.
”He is going to put up enough points this year to be a truly elite player. But his memory will be [Jakob] Chychrun going back door on him and getting a pretty good chance. So, there is another piece to his game [he has to work on.]
“He is still a young man and he is still just coming into it. There is still a whole bunch of the game that he is going to get better and better at.
“This guy is a rockstar.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT DETROIT RED WINGS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
- Streaming/TV: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 4-0
- This season (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 5, Detroit 1 (Dec. 8)
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 34-19-6, 5 ties
- Up next for the Panthers: Sunday at Dallas, 3:30 p.m.