Matthew Tkachuk scored a power-play goal with 4.9 seconds left, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 36 shots to cap off a brilliant series, and the Florida Panthers earned their first trip to the Stanley Cup final in 27 years by beating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 on Wednesday night to win the Eastern Conference title in a sweep.
Tkachuk’s goal was his second of the night – and maybe the biggest in Panthers’ history. The Panthers will play either Vegas or Dallas for the Stanley Cup starting sometime next week; Vegas currently leads the Western Conference title series 3-0.
The Panthers scored 10 goals in the series, and Bobrovsky ensured those were all they needed. Four games, four one-goal wins, three of them coming from Tkachuk in dramatic fashion – two in overtime to end Games 1 and 2, and then this one to cap Florida’s stunning rise from No 8 seed to East champions.
Ryan Lomberg and Anthony Duclair had the other goals for Florida, which swept a series for the first time in franchise history.Jordan Staal – his brothers Eric and Marc play for the Panthers – took a tripping penalty with 57 seconds left in regulation, setting up the power-play that Tkachuk finished off.
Jesper Fast seemed like he might have saved the season for Carolina, getting a tying goal with 3:22 left in regulation. Paul Stastny and Teuvo Teravainen had the first two goals of the night for the Hurricanes, while Brady Skjei and Jordan Martinook each had two assists.
But the night – the series, too – belonged to the Panthers. They were swept by Colorado in the 1996 final.
The tone was set early. Duclair scored 41 seconds into the contest, and not even a minute later Florida’s Sam Bennett delivered a hard hit – but clean, in the sense that it drew no penalty – to Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin behind the Hurricanes’ net.
Towels waved, strobe lights flashed, and the fans wasted no time letting the Panthers know that they were ready to a clincher.
Tkachuk made it 2-0 on the power play midway through the first. Carolina – a 113-point, division-championship-winning team in the regular season – made it 2-1 later in the first on Stastny’s goal, and Teravainen tied it early in the second.
Lomberg’s goal midway through the second gave Florida the lead again. It stayed that way until Fast got the equalizer with 3:22 left, and then Tkachuk finished it off – getting the Panthers to the title round in his first season.