CORAL SPRINGS — When the Florida Panthers shocked the NHL with a late-night blockbuster trade in July which brought Matthew Tkachuk to town, it was with this time of year in mind.
Matthew Tkachuk is built for the style of hockey the playoffs bring.
”He does those heavy things in hard areas,’’ coach Paul Maurice said. “He plays that way for 82 games and he will play that way moving forward. Nothing changes in his game.”
And for all the talk about Tkachuk enjoying the South Florida lifestyle, he came here to win with the Panthers.
Starting Monday night, he and his teammates get started.
“This is good. This is going to be fun,’’ Tkachuk told Florida Hockey Now on Sunday.
“We’re obviously in that underdog role and we have that mentality right now. We’re going to a hostile environment to play a team which is one of the most successful teams in the NHL. This is going to be very serious.
“It is going to be an unbelievable scene, it is Marathon Monday and all that. They have great fans who are super passionate and they have one hell of a hockey team. They have had a great culture around that team for years.
“But hopefully we can knock off the beast this year.’’
Following practice Sunday morning, Tkachuk headed straight to the gym for a workout, his new Panthers playoff t-shirt featuring his trademarked ripped out collar soaked in sweat.
It has, already, been a fantastic season for Tkachuk as he did not let off the gas upon coming to the Panthers.
Last year in Calgary, Tkachuk set a career-high with 42 goals and 104 points.
This season, he joined Carter Verhagehe and Pavel Bure as the only Florida players to ever hit 40 goals in a season and he also scored 109 points.
Tkachuk is Florida’s MVP this season — but none of that stuff matters come puck drop Monday night.
“The last time I checked, there are zeroes across the board and that goes for everyone now,’’ Tkachuk said.
“We know what kind of team they have and we just have to go in and get the series off to a great start. The belief in this room is here. But with that being said, we almost have to be perfect to win a game against these guys much less the series.
“They had that year for a reason. It is hard in the playoffs to win a game so we need to start there, just win a game and go from there.”
Florida general manager Bill Zito did not expect to have Tkachuk on his team went he went to work following the four-game sweep to the Lightning in Round 2 last spring.
The Panthers knew this season was going to look different what with their salary cap concerns and Zito decided to replace interim coach Andrew Brunette with Maurice to change the style Florida played.
Two weeks after free agency opened, Tkachuk let it be known that he was not going to sign a long-term deal with Calgary and the Flames started working on a trade.
While the St. Louis Blues and Carolina Hurricanes, two of the three teams Tkachuk said he would agree to sign long-term with, were reportedly offering prospects and draft picks, Zito gave the Flames two bonafide NHL players plus a prospect and a future first-round draft pick.
It was not easy giving up Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar, but Zito had to give Calgary something big to insure the Panthers would land a young superstar in the prime of his career.
Tkachuk, certainly, has not disappointed.
“You know the type of player Matthew is,” Zito said, “and if you watched our team, you knew we had a need for that type of player. It was a perfect fit. He has been a fantastic fit on the ice and off the ice. He has been a terrific teammate as well.’’
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
BOSTON BRUINS (ATL1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
- GAME 1
- When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: Boston Garden
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN/ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM/WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Tied 2-2): @Boston 5, Florida 3 (Oct. 17); @Florida 5, Boston 2 (Nov. 23); @Boston 7, Florida 3 (Dec. 19); @Florida 4, Boston 3 OT (Jan. 28)
- Last season: Boston won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Boston leads 60-38-6, 6 ties
- Playoff History (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 4-1, 1996 (first round)
- First Round Schedule — Game 1: Monday, 7:30 (ESPN); Game 2: at Boston, Wednesday, 7:30 (ESPN); Game 3: at Florida, Friday, 7:30 (TNT); Game 4: at Florida, Sunday, 3:30 (TNT); Game 5*: at Boston, Wednesday, April 26; Game 6*: at Florida, Friday, April 28; Game 7*: at Boston, Sunday, April 30.