When the Florida Panthers upset the top-seeded Bruins in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Matthew Tkachuk said their reward was the second-best team in the league in the Maple Leafs.
Now that Florida dispatched Toronto in 5, the Panthers get the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Carolina is the third-best, I don’t know what to tell you,” Tkachuk said with a grin after being asked if perhaps he unknowingly disrespected Carolina while giving praise to what, was then, his current opponent.
“We have obviously have not had the kind of success we would like against a team like Carolina. This year they played really well and play a certain style which is super-unique and different than the rest of the league. They have had a ton of success.
“There is not one weakness in their game. What they do and how they compete, the talented players compete more than anyone else. … They have everything going right now and it is going to be tough to beat them. I don’t even know what their points were in the regular season, but they won the Metro. They’re doing something right … we have our hands full.”
Yeah, the Hurricanes are no joke.
Tkachuk and his Panthers certainly are well aware of that.
“This series will look, on defense, a lot like the Boston series and the grind of that series, ,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said on Wednesday afternoon before his team headed north for Game 1.
“There will be a lot of hitting. Both teams play a hard-gap game. It shouldn’t be easy for either team to move the puck from one end of the ice to the other. But all the teams left have half the team in the training room with bumps and bruises. You get three or four days (off) and that’s Christmas.”
Yes, both teams have been able to get some much-needed rest after two rounds of the playoffs as it has been a week since Carolina dropped New Jersey in 5 and six days since the Panthers finished off the Leafs.
Hope they both enjoyed it because now games will be played every other day until a winner is crowned champions of the East and moves on to play for the big prize.
The Panthers know while they accomplished a lot by upsetting the Bruins and Maple Leafs, they have not accomplished what they set out to do.
Both teams want to play for the Stanley Cup and they are both going to do everything they can to do so.
“You have two really hard-checking teams and there won’t be a lot of ice out there,” Marc Staal said. “It is going to physical and it’ll be fast. We’ll see what happens. Like most playoff series, there won’t be a lot of room out there. But this is a lot of fun. It’s high intensity. You have to think quick, move quick and we have been moving toward this all season long.
“Everyone has been talking about ‘must-win games’ since January and we were not joking about that. We had to start going on a run so we have been playing with that mindset, that style of hockey all the way up until the playoffs. We are very comfortable with where our game is at, with the guys in this room. Once we got in, it’s not surprising that we’re where we are now to be honest.”
Carolina comes into this series kind of flying under the radar after the Panthers stole a lot of headlines by dropping two of the league’s top teams.
The Hurricanes won the Metropolitan Division by virtue of beating Florida in the regular-season finale and opened with the New York Islanders. They beat them in 6.
Next came the Devils, a team which showed a lot of moxie by beating the Rangers in 7 after being down 2-0 in the series.
Carolina smoked ‘em, outscoring New Jersey 24-13 as it won three games by 4-plus goals.
Florida’s biggest margin of victory in these playoffs is 3 — and it happened in Game 2 at Boston.
Three of Florida’s wins against Toronto came by a single goal with two in overtime.
This is a brand new series.
“As a team and as an organization, doing the right things every day on and off the ice is starting to pay off,” Sasha Barkov said. “We are really happy to be in this situation right now, playing hockey during this time of the year. This is what it is all about. We want to be here and want to play as well as possible.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
PANTHERS (WC2) AT CAROLINA HURRICANES (MET1)
- When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
- Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
- TV: TNT
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 95.6 FM2, WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Series Schedule — Game 1: Thursday at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 2:Saturday at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 3: Monday at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 4: Wednesday, May 24 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 5*: Friday, May 26 at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 6*:Sunday, May 28 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 7*: Tuesday, May 30 at Carolina, 8 (TNT). *If Necessary
- Season Series: (Carolina won 2-1): @Florida 3, Carolina 0 (Nov.9);@Carolina 4, Florida 0 (Dec. 30); Carolina 6, @Florida 4 (April 13)
- All-Time Regular Season Series: Carolina/Hartford leads 71-46-10, 11 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting
- How They Got Here — Carolina: d. New York Islanders in 6; d. New Jersey Devils in 5. Florida: d. Boston Bruins in 7; d. Toronto Maple Leafs in 5.