SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers will be taking on the Carolina Hurricanes for the first time since their Eastern Conference finals sweep last year.
But the series was a lot closer than the sweep suggests.
Florida won the series off the back of three overtime winners and a game-winning goal with 4.9 seconds left in regulation from Matthew Tkachuk to send them to the Stanley Cup Final in Game 4.
It also featured a 4-OT thriller in Game 1.
”It was a lot of hockey in not a lot of time,” Tkachuk said.
“There were a couple of overtimes and a late goal in Game 4, a 1-0 game in Game 3. But I felt that we dominated in most facets of the game.
“I thought our special teams were really good, our goalie was better. Everything that we matched up against them in, it was such a tight series but we just did it a little better.
“It was a fun series to be a part of coming out n the winning side and all of those overtime games and the late goals were a lot of fun.”
As they saw when they played the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins earlier in the season, the Panthers expect to there to be some extra emotion in tonight’s clash against the Hurricanes.
“They are probably going to feel exactly how we are going to feel when we play Vegas,” Tkachuk said.
“They’re the team that knocked you out and ended your season. And the way we did it to Carolina, we did it in four games, so they are probably going to be a little bit extra sour over there.
“They’re a passionate team and they’re going to come out flying and physical and playing how they normally play. So it’s up to us to outplay them at their own game like we did last year. We have to oversimplify tonight and do it again.”
Spoiler alert: They are feeling a bit sour in the Hurricanes locker room.
“Obviously, they ended our season, so this game means a bit extra,” Carolina star Sebastian Aho told Florida Hockey Now
“Both teams play a similar style, too, so it’s going to be fast-paced. It’s going to be a hard-fought battle game.”
The Hurricanes were missing a big piece in their lineup during the series.
Andrei Svechnikov missed the entirety of the playoffs after tearing his ACL late in the regular season.
The four-time 20-goal scorer has three assists since returning to the lineup on Oct. 27.
“When you have a guy out of the lineup, obviously, it’s going to affect you,” Aho said. “It’s great to have him back. He is looking stronger and stronger each day. He is such a beast out there. He is so fast, so strong, he can shoot the puck well, he’s strong on the puck. He’s just such a great player to have.”
The Panthers are on the other side of that 8-ball with Sam Bennett, Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour all out with injury.
“I think any time you take one of your top players out, it’s a big hole to fill because somebody is taking those minutes that maybe isn’t a number one or number two,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of playing the series without Svechnikov.
“The other team knows when you’re out there. They have to game plan again and all of a sudden, they’re like “here he comes” and that’s something you can’t take for granted.”
All three of those stars could return to the Panthers by the end of their California trip next week.
Uvis Balinskis will draw back into the Panthers lineup for Mike Reilly for tonight’s game against the Hurricanes.
This move comes after Reilly made a costly turnover that put the Washington Capitals ahead on Wednesday before the Panthers came back to win the game in overtime.
“Mike had the tough turnover in the game, but the important part was the play after,” Maurice said.
“I liked his game in Washington more than the game prior. I thought he showed something there. So this is a tough spot for the coach and the layers because I don’t have a real strong reason for what I‘ve done.
“I think Uvis and Josh Mahura had been ahead of Mike out of camp and I was looking for an obvious opportunity to get him in and it never presented itself. They played well enough and I don’t like pulling guys in and out.
“When Mike was in, he was fine. He had the right to go back in but Uvis never really came out for a reason.”
The starting goalies: Sergei Bobrovsky and Antti Raanta.
PANTHERS ON DECK
CAROLINA HURRICANES @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 95.6 FM2,WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- DraftKings odds — Hurricanes Favored: Money Line (-135); Puck line (-1.5, +190); Over/Under 6.5 (-110/-110)
- Last Season — Regular Season: Carolina won 2-1; Eastern Conference finals: Florida won 4-0.
- This Season: @Florida Friday; @Carolina Feb. 22, March 14
- All-Time Regular Season Series: Carolina/Hartford leads 71-46-10, 11 ties
- Postseason History: Florida 1-0 (2023 ECF)
- Up Next for the Panthers: Sunday vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS (5-3-1) LINES
17 Evan Rodrigues // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 15 Anton Lundell // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
27 Eetu Luostarinen // 82 Kevin Stenlund // 21 Nick Cousins
94 Ryan Lomberg // 18 Steven Lorentz // 67 Will Lockwood
42 Gus Forsling // 91 Oliver Ekman-Larsson
77 Niko Mikkola // 7 Dmitry Kulikov
28 Josh Mahura // 26 Uvis Balinksins
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
41 Anthony Stolarz
Scratched: Mike Reilly, Rasmus Asplund
Injured: Aaron Ekblad (LTIR-shoulder), Brandon Montour (IR-shoulder), Jonah Gadjovich (UBI), Sam Bennett (LBI)
PROJECTED CAROLINA HURRICANES (8-5-0) LINEUP
23 Stefan Noesen // 20 Sebastian Aho // 24 Seth Jarvis
37 Andrei Svechnikov // 82 Jesperi Kotkaniemi // 86 Teuvo Teravainen
48 Jordan Martinook // 11 Jordan Staal // 71 Jesper Fast
58 Michael Bunting // 18 Jack Drury // 88 Martin Necas
74 Jaccob Slavin // 8 Brent Burns
76 Brady Skjei // 7 Dmitry Orlov
22 Brett Pesce (GTD-LBI) // 5 Jalen Chatfield
32 Antti Raanta
52 Pyotr Kochetkov
Scratched: Brendan Lemieux, Tony D’Angelo
Injured: Frederik Andersen (blood clot)