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Matthew Tkachuk Impresses in Florida Panthers Debut

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Matthew Tkachuk got off 16 shot attempts and scored the final goal as the Florida Panthers beat the New York Islanders 3-1 in their season-opener on Thursday night at Belmont Park. — Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

ELMONT, N.Y. — When the Florida Panthers traded for Matthew Tkachuk, they knew they needed him for slow games that required a grind-it-out mentality.

Florida got its first look at how he would fare in that kind of environment with a matchup against the notoriously stingy New York Islanders in his Panthers debut.

They both passed the test, leaving Belmont Park with a 3-1 win on Thursday night.

“We framed the game in the way that this was the best possible opponent for us,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.

”They are going to play you as hard defensively as you are going to see in the NHL and they are not going to give you anything. You are going to get frustrated.”

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Through the first 40 minutes of play, the Islanders had the game slowed down to a screeching halt but there was one Panthers player who kept generating scoring chance after scoring chance: Tkachuk.

When Florida’s brand new power forward was on the ice through the first two periods, it held a 24-16 lead in scoring chances and a 13-4 lead in high-danger chances. His line locked it down in the third period and he came away with an empty net goal in his debut.

“That’s my style,” Tkachuk said. “It’s easy for me to play. I don’t know any other way to play.”

It did not take long for the All-Star forward to show why he is called the NHL’s ‘unicorn,’ as well.

In a moment which showed his physicality and skill, Tkachuk beat out an Islanders defender for a rebound and shot the loose puck between his legs.

New York goalie Ilya Sorokin made the save, though.

”Nobody is gonna talk about it,” Tkachuk quipped. “It didn’t go in.”

Tkachuk going against Sorokin became the game’s main attraction.

The 6-foot-2, 201-pound power forward slipped through the hard-checking Islanders defense like it was nothing, carving out passes and getting shots after juking someone out of their skates to get difficult shots off.

”He is real good right hashmarks down in the offensive zone,” Maurice said.

“He has hand skill and with the way he positions his body, he is clearly not afraid to hang it out down there. He has a little edge when he bumps into people, we just have to have a little rangefinder going with some of those shots and he will do well.”

Most of the shots he took when Sorokin was on the ice ended up in his glove or turned away by a blocker or a pad.

New York’s 27-year-old star goalie stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced on Thursday night.

“He’s great,” Panthers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky said.

”He is an athletic goalie with good flexibility and mobiility. He came up with a few big saves tonight.”

Tkachuk had 15 shot attempts on Sorokin and he had to fight for every last save he made on him

”He has such an incredible stick,” Maurice said. “I knew he had good hands but I didn’t know how creative he was with them.”

Through those 15 shot attempts, he did not let himself get discouraged either. He kept playing with the same tenacity he had from the opening faceoff to the final whistle.

It finally paid off for him on his 16th attempt.

Tkachuk finished his Florida debut with a lob shot from his own blue line at a vacant net that helped seal the deal for Florida.

”It’s nice to get the first one, but goal or not, that’s how I want to play,” Tkachuk said.

”The team I play on, the style we played, everything was pretty amazing. After one game, I feel like I’ve played with these guys for 10 years. It was not an adjustment at all. I barely even played in the preseason, so it’s just a credit to all the guys and the environment I’m surrounded in.

“I’m just so lucky.”

PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT BUFFALO SABRES

  • When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
  • Where: KeyBank Center; Buffalo, N.Y. 
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM HD-2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Last season: Florida won 3-0
  • All-time regular season series: Buffalo leads 52-46-5, 4 ties

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