SUNRISE — When Matthew Tkachuk scored with 4.9 seconds left to give the Florida Panthers a lead and a berth in the Stanley Cup Final last Wednesday night, coach Paul Maurice turned to assistant Jamie Kompon and slugged him in the ribs.
It was a crime of passion, Maurice’s assault on his longtime friend an odd celebration — but also one of appreciation.
Kompon is in charge of the Florida power play and man, did it come up big in the Carolina series.
“He took a hard one to the ribs,” Maurice said following the Game 4 win against the Hurricanes. “That is an elite penalty killing team. … In our small, little world, I wanted him to feel that one as much as I did.”
Said Kompon: “I never felt a thing. Seriously. You’re just in the moment and just enjoy it. It was surreal to be honest.”
The Panthers opened the Eastern Conference finals against the aggressive Carolina penalty kill — one which came into the series leading the NHL postseason with a 90 percent success rate — looking like a team just struggling to keep up.
In Game 1, the Panthers had three power play chances in the 3-2 win in four overtimes, getting off just two shots on goal.
Florida drew a penalty early in Game 2 and things looked horrid, Carolina keeping the Panthers out of the zone and peppered Sergei Bobrovsky with six shots of its own while shorthanded.
Things would get better for the Florida power play after that.
Much, much better.
After starting 0-for-4, the Panthers ended the series 4-for-10 with the man advantage — getting three game-winning goals from Games 2-4 while on the power play.
That is a gigantic improvement over the what was seen early in the series and it helped catapult the Panthers into the Stanley Cup Final.
“Our guys, you put them out there and good things are going to happen,’’ Kompon told FHN. “They are special.”
So, what led to the drastic improvement?
The Panthers obviously are not talking about adjustments made during the series headed into the Cup Final, but one thing that helped was seeing the Carolina penalty kill up close in a series.
As Maurice spoke about Wednesday after running power play drills in practice, during the regular season, you do not change your approach very much for a single game.
During a series, however, you have the opportunity to adjust to what a team is throwing at you.
“It is about making little adjustments,’’ Kompon said. “Many times it is the players bringing that to you and then we bring things to their attention and just keep talking. They are a special group when it comes to being able to talk things out, bounce ideas off of them.
“What do they think and what do they see? It was the same in the Boston and Toronto series. It is a process because you know what to expect and then there is a wrinkle. How do you handle that wrinkle? It’s like anything else. You just have to handle it.”
Tkachuk ended up getting the game-winning goal in Game 2 in overtime when Carolina’s penalty kill had two players get tangled up in the corner of the offensive zone really opening things up.
After that, the Panthers did not seem as hesitant to try and make plays against the Hurricanes.
Winning faceoffs in the offensive zone obviously helped as Florida was able to sustain pressure where as in Games 1 and early in Game 2, the Hurricanes won the drop and quickly got the puck out of the zone.
At the end of Game 4, Carolina was without two of its best penalty killers as Jaccob Slavin was out after being hit hard by Sam Bennett in the first period and Jordan Staal was in the box for tripping.
“Carolina and Boston had the top penalty kills in the league,” Brandon Montour said. “We didn’t get many chances against Toronto but it can be tough when you don’t see these teams all that often. But you can spot some tendencies and Carolina’s kill is pretty unique, not many teams play it like they do. They make it hard on you.
“But we made some adjustments. Jamie and Paul do a good job of putting in a plan and we did a good job of executing it, making the plays. We have made adjustments in every series and knew that one would be a tough one on the kill. But I thought we handled it right and got some big goals from our unit and that was great to see.”
As the Panthers move toward one final series this season, the power play has been beneficial to them in the playoffs.
Florida’s 27.9 percent scoring clip is sixth among all NHL postseason teams; Vegas comes into the Final scoring on 18.5 percent of its chances.
On the flip side, the Panthers go into the Cup Final with an improved 71.2 percent success rate on the penalty kill after a pretty rough showing against Boston.
Vegas gave up a bunch of power play goals to Edmonton and stand at 63 percent.
“In all three series, there is a learning curve to the different styles,” Maurice said. “In the regular season, you are just focused on yourself. You play a different team every night, the biggest thing is what you do. In the playoffs, you can make the adjustments, you have the video.
“I am very pleased with the major adjustment in the Boston series and very pleased with the major adjustment in the Carolina series. They have a completely different styles of kill and we were able to find a way to score some goals.’’
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
THE 2023 STANLEY CUP FINAL
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
- When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
- Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
- TV: TNT
- 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
- Series Schedule — Game 1: Saturday at Vegas, 8 (TNT); Game 2: Monday June 5 at Vegas, 8 (TNT); Game 3: Thursday June 8 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 4: Saturday June 10 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 5*: Tuesday June 13 at Vegas, 8 (TNT); Game 6*: Friday June 16 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 7*: Monday June 19 at Vegas, 8 (TNT). * – If Necessary
- 2022-23 Regular Season Series Vs. Vegas (Even 1-1): @Vegas 4, Florida 2 (Jan. 12); @Florida 2, Vegas 1 (March 7)
- All-time Regular Season Series: vs. Vegas Golden Knights lead 6-3-1
- Postseason History: First meeting
- How They Got Here — Vegas: d. Winnipeg in 5, Edmonton in 6, Dallas in 6; Florida: d. Boston in 7, Toronto in 5, Carolina in 4.