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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Matthew Tkachuk Finds New Way to be Playoff Closer for Panthers



Matthew Tkachuk and Ryan Lomberg celebrate with Sergei Bobrovsky after the Florida Panthers 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series on Sunday in Sunrise. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

SUNRISE — To start off the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Matthew Tkachuk found yet another way to be a hero in the final minutes of a game.

With the Tampa Bay Lightning pressing with an empty net at 6-on-5, Tkachuk was out there making big plays in his own zone.

He pressured Tampa Bay’s forecheckers right off the bench to force a dump-in which Aaron Ekblad immediately picked off.

Ekblad then sent the puck right back up to Tkachuk, who fired the puck into the empty net for what ended up being the game-winning goal in a 3-2 Game 1 win for the Panthers.

“You’re always going to get to a point where you’re running two lines on the six on five and his hands say that, if he can get within five feet of that puck, he is going to make a play on it whether it is off the glass, into a hole or into the back of the net,” coach Paul Maurice said.

“He is one of those elite offensive players that, when you look at his game, he is never panicked under pressure with the puck. And that’s true in front of the other team’s net, that’s where his strength is. He has patience and he is calm with the puck. So 6-on-5, you’re just trying to get the puck in a five foot window close to him and he’s going to make a play.”

But it took more than just late-game heroics in the offensive zone for Maurice to trust him in those situations.

Throughout his career, defense was one of Tkachuk’s few weaknesses.

After the Panthers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final last year, he worked hard to turn it into a strength.

“I think I had a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the puck when I came down here from Calgary,” Tkachuk said. “I worked them out a lot and I think, just over last year’s playoff run, I was fine-tuning it a little bit.

“Especially in this time, it’s important to be able to play on both sides of the ice and be counted on in those situations, especially when you’re out there on 6-on-5 situations, it’s defense first. But defensively, I think I’ve definitely had to work on it. I’ve worked on it all year and hopefully it’s peaking at the right time.”

Tkachuk has proven that he can play in those big-time defensive situations all season.

He came up with plenty of big plays late in games, chasing players down, laying the body and prying them off the puck.

Tkachuk essentially turned his strengths in the offensive zone into strengths in the defensive zone.

“Give him credit, he’s pushed himself in practice,” Maurice said earlier in the season. “He has become stronger and stronger as the year has gone on becaue of it.

“So now, he’s not as fast as some guys in the league, but his brain is so quick, his mind is so quick, he makes his decision he’s going to go and you don’t notice it.”

For the most in-depth coverage of the Florida Panthers:

  • When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • Local TV/National TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN2/ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • First Round (Panthers Lead 1-0) — Game 1: Panthers 3, Lightning 2 (Sunday); Game 2: Tuesday at Florida, 7:30 (BSF, ESPN2); Game 3: Thursday at Tampa Bay, 7 (BSF, TBS); Game 4: Saturday Ap. 27 at Tampa Bay, 5 (BSF, TBS, TruTV); Game 5*:Monday Ap. 29 at Florida, TBA (BSF, TBA); Game 6*: Wednesday May 1 at Tampa Bay, TBA (BSF, TBA); Game 7*:Saturday May 4 at Florida, TBA (BSF, TBA). (*) — If necessary
  • 2023-24 Regular Season Series (Panthers Won 2-1) — At Tampa Bay: Panthers 3, Lightning 2 (Dec. 27)Panthers 9, Lightning 2 (Feb. 17). At Florida: Lightning 5, Panthers 3 (March 16).
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Florida leads 77-51-19, 10 ties
  • All-Time Postgame Series: Lightning Leads 2-0 (2021 first-round, 2022 ECS)

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