The Florida Panthers were doing everything in their power to get the go-ahead goal Saturday night as they tried to keep pace in the NHL playoff race.
The Panthers were tied with the host Capitals despite outshooting them 17-1 in the the third period, the clock running down toward overtime.
This was a game the Panthers desperately needed to win — and should have been winning what with some of Washington’s biggest names including their best player being out of the lineup.
Yet here they were, tied at 2 and the clock rolling toward zeroes.
Then, with just over a minute left in regulation, Matthew Tkachuk corralled a puck against the halfwall and fired it toward the net.
To paraphrase Steve Goldstein: It was time for the Panthers to come home.
“I just kind of threw it on net knowing there wasn’t much time,” said Tkachuk, whose game-winning goal with a minute left led to what ended up being a 4-2 win over the Capitals.
“No shot is a bad shot. It just paid in. I don’t know how it went in, but it did. We needed that one very bad.”
Said coach Paul Maurice: “It is hard to describe that man. He is just a gamer. He is so focused when he comes to the rink, he’s not distracted by anything. … You start to get the sense that you’re hanging around a little bit of greatness. He is a big goal guy and has done it all year. It has been fun to watch.”
Although Tkachuk joined Carter Verhaeghe and Pavel Bure in the Panthers’ growing 40-goal club, he said afterward that the numbers do not matter to him or anyone on the team.
Well, one number matters: Six.
Florida has won six consecutive games at a critical time as they continue to hold onto the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Oh, here’s another number: Two.
That’s all the Panthers have left in this regular season. To make the playoffs, they need to come close to making that winning streak end up at eight.
“Goals, points are all out the door right now,” Tkachuk said. “This is about as big as it gets for us. Each player is putting their stuff aside. The mood in that room is so fun right now, we’re all playing for each other and you see it all the different ways: Sticking up for each other, blocking shots. We’re just having such a good time right now, we want to keep it going as long as we can.”
Tkachuk should have joined Club 40 earlier in the game as his first period goal was disallowed after a video review so long it probably should have had an intermission of its own.
That goal, in which he bunted a Brandon Montour delivery into the back of the net, would have given the Panthers a 1-0 lead. But it went away.
In the second, Sam Reinhart deflected a shot from Aaron Ekblad that was waved off for another high stick one which was verified by a quick video look.
Florida ended up trailing 1-0 in this one, but eventually took a 2-1 lead on goals from Verhaeghe (No. 41) and Ekblad. Washington tied it on a soft defensive play in front of Alex Lyon but that was it for the Capitals.
In the third, Lyon did not have much to do but watch the Panthers chew up the ice on the Washington side.
Still, a sixth consecutive win for Lyon with 22 saves probably secures his spot in the Florida net for another night.
You do not mess with a guy on a heater and Lyon is dealing right now.
“If we give our goaltender a chance to win, he’s going to help us too,” Maurice said. “We helped him in the third, but he made some saves in the second we really needed. We have a completely different pressure dynamic in our room … and he has been a big part of us handling that for the past six.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Monday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- Streaming ONLY: ESPN+, Hulu
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Toronto leads 2-1): Maple Leafs 5, Panthers 4 OT (Jan. 17); Maple Leafs 6, Panthers 2 (Mar. 23); Panthers 3, Maple Leafs 2 OT (March 29)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Toronto leads 47-36-7, 7 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday vs. Carolina Hurricanes, 7 p.m.