Kristen ShiltonESPN NHL reporter4 minutes of reading
SUNRISE, Florida — Matthew Tkachuk scored a power-play goal with 4.9 seconds left to complete Florida’s sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes and send the Panthers to their first Stanley Cup Final in 27 years.
A 4-3 win in Game 4 on Wednesday night gave the Panthers their first playoff series sweep in franchise history. Florida — which entered the postseason as the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff seed — is now making its second Cup Final appearance, dating back to 1996. They await the winner of the Vegas Golden Knights-Dallas Stars series.
Regardless of who the next opponent is, Tkachuk is determined to enjoy the ride in Florida.
“I hope it’s going to be the best few weeks of our lives,” he said. “We talked about it in the room and we’re all very excited.”
Tkachuk’s goal was the game-winner’s second of the game and third of the playoffs.
“We’re lucky to have Chucky on our side,” Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said. “He’s been great all playoff. We’re lucky to have him.”
“Who else, right?” Aaron Ekblad added. “What he’s done (this season) is indescribable.”
“Everybody sees what he does on the ice,” captain Alexander Barkov said. “But what he does off the ice (to create) is eye-opening.”
NHL Senior Vice President Brian Jennings officiated to present the Prince of Wales Trophy. Few teams touch it. Some don’t. Takachu had no hesitation in touching it.
“We’re not a superstitious team,” he said, referring to the past tradition of players not lifting any awards until the trophy. “We earned it, and we did it the hard way.”
After a 1-0 win in Game 3 on Monday, Sergei Bobrovsky’s 32-save shutout gave the Panthers a chance to close out the Hurricanes. Florida’s netminder was stellar again on Wednesday with 36 saves. Frederik Andersen stopped 21 shots at the other end to give Carolina a chance to extend the streak.
Florida was in control early in the 4th, taking a 1-0 lead with 41 seconds left in the middle of a mad scramble in front of Carolina’s net, past Anthony Duclair Anderson.
It was the start of a dream stretch for the Hurricanes.
Immediately after Duclair scored, Panthers forward Sam Bennett gave Carolina defenseman Jacob Slavin a big test when he played the puck behind his net. Slavin hit his head against the boards and was later ejected with an upper body injury. Bennett told reporters after the game that he was fine and the check was clean. The Hurricanes will lose forward Stephen Knowson to an upper-body injury.
“When you look back on it, it’s hard to go far without your best players,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amrour said of his team losing key players. “But I can’t ask for more than what we got from this group.”
Tkachuk gave Florida a 2-0 advantage on the power play when Sebastian Aho went to the box for interference, the first time — in nearly 14 periods — that a team had a two-goal lead in the series. . Each action came in the first 272 minutes of the series (including all overtime) with the score leveled or someone leveling the score.
When Paul Stastny pushed a sideline under a sprawling Bobrovsky, the Hurricanes got one in need of a boost. It was the first even-strength goal by a Carolina forward against Florida and ended Bobrovsky’s save streak at 72.
Florida took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but Carolina didn’t waste an evening when Duvo Teravainen scored his first playoff goal in the middle frame.
The Panthers regained the lead on a goal by Ryan Lomberg after some shaky play from fourth-stringers Mark Staal and Colin White. Florida took a 3-2 advantage into the third period and defended it against a desperate Carolina team trying to keep its season alive.
Searching for the equalizer, Carolina had a third power-play opportunity that saw Bobrovsky fire four shots, but none on goal. Late in the third period, with less than 4 minutes to play, Jesper Faust again found Bobrovsky with a quick strike to tie the score at 3.
A late tripping call by Carolina captain Jordan Staal gave Florida a power-play opportunity with 57 seconds left. Tkachuk beat Anderson with 4.9 seconds on the clock. Brind’Amour challenged the game on goaltender interference, but Tkachuk’s goal punched Florida’s ticket to the Cup Final.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Brind’Amour and his team, seeing their promising 113-point regular season end with such a bang.
“Are we better qualified?” Brind’amour was surprised after the defeat. “I think so. It’s unfortunate. (Everybody) looks back and says you got swept. That didn’t happen. I watched the game, I’m in, we’re in the game. It could have been. Four games the other way.”
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.