SUNRISE — When it matters most, Matthew Tkachuk shows exactly why the Florida Panthers went all-in to bring him to South Florida last summer.
One would think it would be hard to top his Game 5 overtime winner to keep the Panthers alive against the record-breaking Boston Bruins.
Only he made his intentions to go even further upon arriving back in the Florida locker room at the Boston Garden.
“Boys, remember this room,” he said in a video posted by the team. ”We’ll be back here for 7.”
Hey, he was not wrong.
Guess where the Panthers are flying to on Saturday?
Tkachuk led Florida into the fight in Game 6 and came out with another standout performance.
Not only did he end with two goals and three points, but his third-period heroics tied the score and helped the Panthers force a Game 7 against the record-setting Bruins with a 7-5 win.
“Everybody likes that,” Anton Lundell said of Tkachuk’s confidence and leadership.
“You know what he wants and you work hard to give everything you have towards the goal. He pushes us every day and he is one of the leaders on our team and we want to follow him and step up as well.”
Tkachuk pounced in a moment the Panthers appeared to be dead in the water.
The rest of the team followed his lead.
It looked liked Jake DeBrusk sank any momentum Florida built when he scored on a shorthanded chance with 9:38 remaining to give the Bruins a 5-4 lead.
That lead lasted all of 27 seconds.
Tkachuk ended up stuffing his own rebound home after picking up a feed from Lundell at the front of the net to tie the game at 5, setting off a huge celebration and again helping bring his team back into the fight.
“That was the most challenging one because a shorthanded goal in a game that important can cripple you,” coach Paul Maurice said.
“If that was the first time we’ve seen Matthew do something like that, we would say ‘Oh, what a great time to step up.’ Except it’s almost routine for him. He has the ability to stay focused in these games.
“He’s had kind of an ascension into that truly elite category of player and he keeps reinforcing it in the playoffs.”
After having a season which pushed him to the forefront of the MVP conversation — a 40-goal, 109-point season where he helped pull the Panthers into the playoffs in the first place — Tkachuk has continued to play up to that standard in the playoffs.
Tkachuk now has five goals and 10 points in the first six games of this series, ranking second in the league in both categories.
He is two points away from tying Carter Verhaeghe for most ever by a Florida player in a single postseason series set last year against the Capitals.
Many of those points have been scored in critical situations where the Panthers needed him the most.
“There are moments in my job where I am just truly a fan,” Maurice said. “It brings you back to your fandom of the game; Of ‘Oh my God, these guys are so good’.”
Tkachuk’s combination of skill and grit has helped the Panthers grind the Bruins down as they have climbed back from a 3-1 deficit.
His unique reputation as an agitator and a bonafide talent has made him a known headache for opponents for years.
When he suddenly appeared on the market last summer, Florida GM Bill Zito leapt at the chance to get him — and gave Calgary a king’s ransom to do so.
Did he overpay? It honestly did not look like it then and it certainly does not look like it now.
Tkachuk has been making good on Florida bringing him since Day 1. He has only added to it since actually joining the Panthers.
“When he came here, everybody knew what kind of player he was,” Lundell said.
“It has been a pleasure to see him every day and, of course, have him on our team. He brings so much to the team on the ice, off the ice and in the locker room.
“Overall, everyone’s happy.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
BOSTON BRUINS (ATL1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 7 (Series Tied 3-3)
- When: Sunday, 6:30 p.m.
- Where: Boston Garden
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, TNT
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Playoff History (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 4-1, 1996 (first round)
- First Round Schedule — Game 1: @Boston 3, Florida 1; Game 2: Florida 6, @Boston 3; Game 3: Boston 4, @Florida 2; Game 4: Boston 6, @Florida 2; Game 5: Florida 4, @Boston 3 (OT); Game 6: @Florida 7, Boston 5; Game 7: at Boston, Sunday, 6:30 (BSF, TNT).
- Regular 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