Tkachuk scores with 4.9 seconds to go, sends Panthers to Stanley Cup Finals 


The Florida Panthers touch the Prince of Wales Trophy as Eastern Conference Champions.

Matthew Tkachuk scored with 4.9 seconds left in regulation to send the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1996. The Panthers were leading 3-2 over the Carolina Hurricanes late in the third period. With just under four minutes to go, Jesper Fast scored to tie the game. With the game tied, Tkachuk scored his eleventh of the playoffs. His goal at 19:95 ties the all-time record for the latest series-clinching goal. The Panthers sweep the Hurricanes in four games after winning all four by just one goal.

Just 41 seconds into the game, Anthony Duclair scored on a rebound to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. Midway through the first, Sam Bennett laid a big hit on Carolina defenseman Jacob Slavin. Slavin left the game with an upper-body injury and did not return. With 9:37 left in the opening period, Matthew Tkachuk got the puck all alone in front of the net and scored to go up 2-0. Moments later, Paul Statsny scored on a loose puck in front of the net to make it 2-1. Teuvo Teravainen scored in the second to make it 2-2 before Ryan Lomberg scored on a backhander to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead. Late in the third, there was a loose puck in front of the crease. Jesper Fast took a whack at it while falling down. The puck squeaked past the pad of Sergei Bobrovsky to tie the game at three. Jordan Staal took a penalty in the final two minutes to give Florida a power play. Matthew Tkachuk circled in front of the net, deked out Hurricanes goalie Frederik Andersen, and found the back of the net to send FLA Live Arena into a frenzy. 

“It’s going to be the best few weeks of our lives hopefully,” Tkachuk said. “We talked about that in the room. It’s something we’re all really excited for.”

“We’re lucky to have Chucky on our side,” said Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. “He’s been great all playoffs. We’re just lucky to have him.”

The Panthers are moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1996, when they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche. They were in a playoff spot for just 28% of the regular season and got into the playoffs after the Pittsburgh Penguins lost to one of the worst teams, the Chicago Blackhawks. They are the fourth team since 2018 to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals the season after winning the Presidents Trophy for best team in the league.

“Everyone sees what he’s doing on the ice,” said captain Aleksander Barkov. “But what he does off the ice (to prepare) is eye-opening.”

Game one was one 3-2 in four overtimes. Game two also went to overtime and Carolina won. Tkachuk scored the overtime goal in both games. Game three was won 1-0 before winning game four.  Carolina also dealt with many injuries, losing Slavin and Stefan Noesen in game four. 

“When you look back at this, it’s tough to get far without your top players,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “But I can’t ask for more out of this group than what we got.”

It was a great season for Carolina. Florida had more star players, was more clutch, and were able to pull out those tough victories. 

“Who else, right?” added Aaron Ekblad. “What he’s done (this season) is unexplainable.”

After the game, the team was presented with the Prince of Wales Trophy, given to the eastern conference champion. Many teams consider it bad luck to touch the trophy, raise it, and celebrate with it. They think that by touching the trophy, they are settling and accepting the fact that they won the conference and that is enough(if they touch it, they believe they won’t win the cup). Most teams only touch the Stanley Cup, which is the biggest award. The Panthers went ahead and touched it.  

“We’re not the type of team that’s going to be superstitious,” Tkachuk said about touching the Prince of Wales trophy. “We earned that thing. We did it the hard way.”

The Panthers will play the winner of the Vegas Golden Knights-Dallas Stars series. Vegas has a 3-0 lead in the series and can advance with a win on Thursday. Game one, two, five, and seven will be in either Vegas or Dallas (whichever team advances). Game three, four, and six will be at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida. The Stanley Cup Finals will be on TNT.