The Panthers — who sneaked into the playoffs by a single point — will now play for the Stanley Cup for the second time in team history.
Just in the Tkachuk of Time
The hero of the postseason for the Panthers, Matthew Tkachuk, stepped up once again in Game 4, delivering an unforgettable game-winning goal with 4.9 seconds left on the clock, sealing the series sweep for Florida.
With time running out and the Panthers on the power play, it seemed the series was destined for its third overtime game. But the Panthers' newest star, who arrived in Sunrise via a blockbuster 2022 trade with the Calgary Flames, made sure there was no need for another intermission, just champagne and celebrations.
Simply put, Tkachuk's goal will go down as one of the greatest moments in South Florida sports history.
It was his third game-winning walk-off score of the series, marking a legendary playoff performance for the 25-year-old.
Following the game, Tkachuk told reporters he wasn't going along with the superstition of not touching the Eastern Conference Championship trophy because that bad juju just doesn't apply to teams considered dead on arrival heading into the postseason.
"The last thing that we’re going to do is be superstitious about not touching it. Like, nobody said we were even going to make the playoffs. I think it’s pretty cool to touch it, carry it around, and take pictures with it. We earned that thing," Tkachuk said.
Emotions Run High
If Jeff Conine is Mr. Marlin, former NHL forward Bill Lindsay is Mr. Panther. The onetime star of the franchise, now an analyst, could barely hold back his emotions as he sat on the NHL Network set following the Panthers' thrilling down-to-the-wire win.
Lindsay, who played for the Panthers for seven seasons (1993-99 and in 2001), will forever be associated with the glory days of Panthers hockey, so to see him still this connected to the team's success only adds to the moment for diehard Panthers fans.
Lindsay wasn't the only one to get emotional after the game-winning goal. Cameras appeared to catch Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky — now 11-2 in the postseason — shedding a tear.
The Panthers' success has to feel especially good for Bobrovsky, who has spent much of his tenure with the team fighting to show fans he's well worth the seven-year, $80 million contract he secured in free agency in 2019.
What's Next: The Stanley Freakin' Cup Finals
The Florida Panthers will face the winner of the Western Conference Finals in the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, June 3 — probably.
The Vegas Golden Knights are leading the Dallas Stars 3-0 in the Western Conference series, and the Stars need a win at American Airlines Center on Thursday, May 25, to stay alive. If Vegas joins the Panthers in a sweep, there are rumors the NHL will consider bumping things up and beginning the championship earlier rather than have both teams sitting on their hands for more than a week.
Whenever the series commences, it will begin far away from home ice in Sunrise, because no matter how well the Panthers are playing at the moment, they're still an eight seed.
In the postgame conference last night, Tkachuk gave his take on being the perpetual underdog, saying that outside of Florida, there are still "not many people out there" who believe in the Panthers.
"We know what we have in there. We know how to play, the right way to play. We know what makes us successful," Tkachuk said. "Being in it with the guys, and seeing the belief, and seeing just the calmness to us is really something special."