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Matthew Tkachuk Keeps Good Times Rolling for Florida Panthers

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Matthew Tkachuk is mobbed by Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Bennett after he gave the Florida Panthers a 3-1 lead on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second period on Monday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SUNRISE — Matthew Tkachuk admitted to being a little tired after being named the MVP of Saturday’s NHL All-Star Game hosted by his Florida Panthers.

Not only did he play on Saturday, but he also had to play gracious host all week to friends and family who traveled south to hang out with their now-local guy.

And, by all accounts, Tkachuk was one heck of a host.

But while Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper hinted his team was not yet back from its All-Star vacation on Monday night, Tkachuk and the Panthers certainly were as they throttled their in-state rivals with a 7-1 win at FLA Live Arena.

“I’m tired now,” said Tkachuk, whose five points off two goals matched a career-high.

“It was definitely a long weekend. I know people think it’s fun and stuff, but there is a lot going on.

“I had an unreal time this weekend and there’s nothing better than coming back, seeing the guys … and we’re really looking forward to a good home stretch the end the year.”

Tkachuk certainly looked bushed after scored two goals and assisting on three others, his five points giving him 71 so far this season.

Last year, Jonathan Huberdeau scored 70 points in his first 50 games to set a franchise record.

It lasted until Monday night.

Tkachuk, who also got NHL First Star of the Week to go along with his MVP award and new Honda crossover, had himself a game on Monday.

Heck of a week, as well.

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”I did not watch all of (the All-Star Game), but I did watch the important stuff,’’ Radko Gudas said. “It is great to have a guy like that. He is feeling confident, he is leading the way for us. He showed the caliber of player he is for us and why he is our MVP. He is a special player. He is leading the way for us.”

Monday was a big night for the Panthers as they picked up a win they sorely needed.

Coach Paul Maurice was understandably worried about how things would go as his team came off a hiatus with two of his biggest stars playing big roles in the hometown All-Star Game.

Only Tkachuk seemed no worse for wear as he had a hand in Florida’s first three goals — he fed Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Bennett with pretty passes for the opening two before getting his first — as Florida rolled to victory.

Getting back to Cooper’s comment, Tampa Bay was in it when the score was 2-1. Once Tkachuk scored his first of two in the second, the Lightning seemed to check out.

“I don’t want to say we’re still on vacation, but their will to win was a little bit stronger than ours,” Cooper said. “They seemed to be OK and we weren’t. I think it was too easy a night for them in our own zone and that result happened.”

Said Tkachuk: “Everyone contributed. Bob made some big saves when it was 2-1, 3-1 and allowed us to get that fourth. We kept playing our game. The team was awesome tonight.”

The Panthers obviously needed this one a lot more than the Lightning did as Florida is trying to claim one of the two wild card spots as Tampa Bay is content to chill in third place and await the Maple Leafs come April.

Florida cannot afford to blow any more games with 29 remaining and it certainly took care of business on Monday night.

“We have liked our team all year,’’ said Eric Staal, whose wraparound goal helped seal the deal for the Panthers.

“There have obviously been circumstances to why we are where we are but the bottom line is this is the NHL. You have to find way to win, you have to find ways to get points. We would have liked to have done that more this year than we have, but there is still lots of hockey left. I like where we’re at with our game collectively, and obviously a huge win today and at home. We have to continue to follow that up with a big effort on Thursday.”

Not only did Tkachuk record a five-point night to tie his personal best, but Carter Verhaeghe got two goals and four points.

Sergei Bobrovsky was terrific in his return from a long absence due to a lower-body concern sustained in Montreal three weeks ago, out-dueling Andrei Vasilevskei with 32 saves.

Florida outshot the Lightning 49-33 as it looked like the more desperate team.

“It is definitely a great feeling, a great two points for us,’’ Bobrovsky said. “It is huge. I thought the guys did a great job from start to finish. We beat a really good team too so its big for us, we have to build from it.”

As much fun Monday night was for the Panthers, there was some bad news.

Captain Sasha Barkov left the game midway through the second with what looks like a hand injury.

Although Maurice would not comment a whole lot on the situation, he did say Barkov could return Thursday against the San Jose Sharks.

We shall see.

“He couldn’t come back and probably won’t skate (Tuesday) but we do not think this is anything long-term,’’ said Maurice, who became the sixth coach in NHL history to win 800 games on Monday night.

”There is a good chance he plays in the next game.”

PANTHERS ON DECK

SAN JOSE SHARKS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Last season: Florida won 2-0
  • This season — Florida leads 1-0: Panthers 4, Sharks 3 (Nov. 3)
  • All-time regular season series: Florida leads 20-13-1, 7 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday vs. Colorado, 6 p.m.

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