When the Florida Panthers went hard after Matthew Tkachuk in July, they did so knowing he would show up in big moments.
During Tkachuk’s introductory press conference last July, general manager Bill Zito compared him to Jimmy Chitwood from the movie Hoosiers.
“Jimmy, at the end of the movie, says ‘Coach, I’ll make it’,” Zito said.
“He has that type of confidence. ‘Give me the ball with 20 seconds and the game on the line’ and I think he knows he is right. He wants the shot.”
Tkachuk has proven to be that guy — and then some — in his first playoff run in South Florida.
Through 14 postseason games, Tkachuk already has three overtime goals which is a franchise record shared with teammate Carter Verhaeghe.
Two of were scored in back-to-back days.
Tkachuk’s latest OT winner sent the Panthers back to Sunrise with a 2-1 overtime win and a 2-0 series lead over the Carolina Hurricanes in their first trip to the Eastern Conference finals since 1996.
His immediate reaction in the massive celebration?
“Bus in 10, boys!”
As he did early Friday morning when he won the Game 1 marathon, Tkachuk pointed his gloved hand to the big tunnel at the end of the ice where the team exits.
Tkachuk sprinted off the ice with his focus shifting to the next challenge ahead.
He does not seem to care about the pressure.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound power forward has a knack for putting himself in the right spots in the right times and when the puck leaves his stick, his shot is money.
Tkachuk won Game 2 the way he has come through for Florida all too often throughout his first season in town.
He found the right spot in front of the net and parked himself there off a face-off play near the start of a power play.
Sam Bennett sent a feed through Carolina’s highly-potent penalty kill to Sam Reinhart, who immediately sent a cross-crease, one-touch pass Tkachuk’s way.
What happened next?
To use the words of Steve Goldstein: “Tkachuk, Tka-ching.”
“He has been huge for us. He is not just scoring goals, not just making plays, but everything about being a hockey player,” captain Sasha Barkov said.
“He has been a leader on this team and he has done everything as good as possible. He is unbelievable.”
With the Panthers just two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final, the objective remains the same for Tkachuk.
From the moment he first stepped foot in South Florida, his mind was not on kicking back on the beach come June: It was about winning.
And he has helped the Panthers win in just about every way possible.
His almost care-free personality in high-pressure situations has carried on to the rest of the team as Florida gutted out one overtime win after another in the playoffs.
Florida is now 6-0 in OT for those keeping track at home.
Tkachuk’s reaction after the first of those overtime winners tells the story as to how the Panthers have been able to build their way up.
“Boys, remember this room,” Tkachuk said in Boston after cutting their first-round series deficit in Game 5 from 3-1 to 3-2.
“We will be back for 7.”
Tkachuk backed his confidence up himself by scoring two goals, including a clutch game-tying goal in a wild 7-5 win in Game 6 win which sparked Florida’s run to the Conference finals.
The first two games in Carolina?
The story has been the same.
Tkachuk has had the puck on his stick in the biggest of moments and he sank each shot to send the Panthers back to Sunrise with a 2-0 lead.
“I don’t feel pressure, I’m here to win,” Tkachuk said.
“Personal stuff? Throw it out the door. I don’t care. I’m here to win. I’m here to be the last team standing, that’s it.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
CAROLINA HURRICANES (MET1) AT PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 3 (Panthers Lead 2-0)
- When: Monday, 8 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV: TNT
- 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
- Series Schedule — Game 1: Florida 3, @Carolina 2; Game 2: Florida 2, @Carolina 1 (OT); Game 3: Monday at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 4: Wednesday at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 5*: Friday at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 6*: Sunday, May 28 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 7*: Tuesday, May 30 at Carolina, 8 (TNT). *If Necessary
- Season Series: (Carolina won 2-1): @Florida 3, Carolina 0 (Nov.9);@Carolina 4, Florida 0 (Dec. 30); Carolina 6, @Florida 4 (April 13)
- All-Time Regular Season Series: Carolina/Hartford leads 71-46-10, 11 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting
- How They Got Here — Carolina: d. New York Islanders in 6; d. New Jersey Devils in 5. Florida: d. Boston Bruins in 7; d. Toronto Maple Leafs in 5.