Matthew Tkachuk joins NBA on TNT panel before Heat-Celtics Game 6

As the Panthers wait to see who they'll face for the Cup, Tkachuk was hoping to catch the Heat book a Finals ticket of their own — but it wasn't to be.

Tkachuk was called up to the big leagues on Saturday night. (Via NBA on TNT)
Tkachuk was called up to the big leagues on Saturday night. (Via NBA on TNT)

Charles Barkley showed off deeper hockey knowledge than Shaquille O’Neal when Matthew Tkachuk rubbed elbows with the NBA on TNT crew during an appearance on the pregame show, but Shaq's honesty remains unmatched.

Basketball and hockey crossover connections have been abundant in Florida this spring as Tkachuk’s Panthers and Jimmy Butler’s Heat go deep into the NBA and NHL playoffs, respectively, and Saturday’s pre-game appearance ahead of Boston and Miami's Game 6 showdown really hammered home how Matthew Tkachuk has the potential to be as close to a mainstream name as the NHL’s had in ages.

The crew covered a lot of fun stuff here, as Tkachuk evoked his family (pumping up the Hall of Fame credentials of his father Keith), talked about rust vs. rest as the Panthers await the winner of the Stars-Golden Knights series, mixed in a cool story about going to highschool and taking phys-ed class with Celtics star Jayson Tatum and more over a lengthy chat with Barkley, Shaq, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson.

Arguably the most fun moments came when Shaq and Barkley imagined slapping each other around and only getting two-minute minor penalties for their trouble. This came after Shaq told Tkachuk, "I don’t really watch hockey, I just like to see you guys fight."

Tkachuk added more on him and his squad's fairy-tale ride to the Stanley Cup Final to a Panthers team reporter before Game 6:

"Nobody thought we’d be in the playoffs. … Now we’re in the Finals and [Jimmy Butler] is wearing my jersey. … I just talked to Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller. It’s just crazy how the last few months have gone. We’re just riding the wave and enjoying every minute," Tkachuk said.

Tkachuk's NBA connection goes back to childhood, dad

Some of that star power comes from Tkachuk’s incredible skill, yet there’s also the edge to his game that can echo with someone like Butler and a flair for the dramatic that someone like Barkley clearly enjoys. Really, you don’t need to be a hockey nerd with a full understanding of icing and offside rules to appreciate Tkachuk’s “let’s get out of here” goal celebration.

During Saturday's NBA on TNT appearance, there was one area where Tkachuk can be accused of being a bit “hockey bland.” He was guilty of playing both sides a bit by confessing to two favorite NBA players: Butler of the Heat and Tatum of the Celtics.

Then again, can you totally blame him? On one hand, Butler rocked a Tkachuk Panthers jersey recently.

That’s the current local team hook, yet Tkachuk’s connection to Tatum goes way back to high school. As great as Tkachuk’s TNT appearance was at times, none of that fun hockey talk could match this footage.

So, OK, Tkachuk can sit on the fence a bit there.

Barkley didn’t exactly mince words when he opined that Matthew may have already surpassed his father Keith, the sort of discussions that likely catapulted the Panthers winger to this interview in the first place. Those more organic moments have still been the highlight of the Tkachuk-NBA connection, right down to actual highlight recaps.

As fun as that was, imagine if Matthew brought his brother Brady Tkachuk along to get in on the chirping. Then again, that could put quite the burden on even the sharpest network censors.

As for the on-court action, the Celtics are now just one win away from being the first team in NBA history to erase a 3-0 playoff deficit with their Game 6 victory over the Heat.