NHL playoffs: Matthew Tkachuk scores second consecutive OT winner, Panthers go up 2-0

Led by Sergei Bobrovsky's stellar play, the Panthers have roared out to a decisive series lead.

Matthew Tkachuk scored his third overtime winner of the Stanley Cup playoffs to send the Panthers back home with a 2-0 series lead. (Getty Images)

Matthew Tkachuk scored one minute and 51 seconds into the overtime period and the Florida Panthers are heading home with a 2-0 series lead over the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final.

Here are five takeaways from the Panthers’ 2-1 victory over the Hurricanes in Game 2.

Sergei Bobrovsky is in pole position for playoff MVP

It’s reductionist to view the Panthers’ incredible playoff run as the lone function of receiving elite goaltending at the right time, as there are other contributing factors across the board, but Sergei Bobrovsky has to be atop the playoff MVP rankings at this juncture. Bobrovsky saved 2.28 goals above expected via Natural Stat Trick, but you don’t necessarily need to dive into the charts to quantify his impact Saturday night.

Bobrovsky allowed his lone goal of the contest one minute and 51 seconds into the game when Sebastian Aho’s slap-pass was redirected by Hurricanes defenseman Jalen Chatfield. Operating as a broad mirror of the Panthers’ postseason form, Bobrovsky improved as the game went on and held off a relentless Hurricanes attack.

“I think tonight, in particular, it allowed us to…. I don’t know, we didn’t start off great but it allowed us to take the time we needed to get going because we knew he would hold the fort for us,” Tkachuk said of Bobrovsky post-game. “We don’t want to get in that habit but even if it would have taken us half the game to get going, we knew he was going to stand in there to keep it a one-goal game or keep us in reach.”

Sebastian Aho ringed a wrist shot off Bobrovsky’s mask and the 34-year-old called for a brief stoppage in play with nearly 13 minutes remaining, but remained relatively unfazed. Jack Drury scored what appeared to be the 2-0 goal but Paul Maurice successfully challenged for offside and from there onwards, Bobrovsky was never vulnerable again. He made several stops that kept the Panthers in the game, robbing the Hurricanes’ potent fourth line three times in one shift and shortly after Aleksander Barkov scored the game-equalizing goal, Bobrovsky made one of the saves of the playoffs, robbing Teuvo Teravainen.

Here’s another angle:

Teravainen had a wide-open net after Martin Necas’ seeing-eye pass cut through the heart of the Panthers’ defense and yet the game remained tied. Bobrovsky made several good saves throughout the third period and after regulation, the Hurricanes controlled 59.2 percent of the expected goals at 5-on-5. They could’ve expected a better fate. Bobrovsky had other ideas.

During the opening shift of the overtime period, Bobrovsky stoned Jordan Staal. He did his part. And when Tkachuk scored the winner just over a minute later, you have to figure the 34-year-old took a giant sigh of relief. Or maybe he didn’t. Bobrovsky has been unflappable since replacing Alex Lyon during the playoffs and the two-time Vezina Trophy winner may be adding a playoff MVP trophy to his resume if he continues to be in all-world form. Florida doesn’t take the first two games on the road against a very good Carolina team without its goalie.

“We're just super lucky to have him as the backbone of the team,” Tkachuk said.

Matthew Tkachuk, superstar and showman

Tkachuk scored the winner in the fourth overtime period on Thursday night, and then scored in the extra frame again on Saturday. At this point, clutch doesn’t even begin to describe Tkachuk’s playoff performance, registering seven goals and 18 points in 14 games.

For all the forced hand-wringing about market size, Tkachuk is a Hart Trophy finalist with a penchant for clutch goals and he’s proving to be a showman too. Tkachuk took advantage of PNC Arena’s unique dimensions and implored his team to skate off the ice as quickly as possible. One of the league’s best players is proving to be worth the price of admission for on and off-the ice reasons, and that’s all you can really ask for.

Do the Hurricanes revert back to Frederik Andersen after a stellar performance from Raanta?

Antti Raanta took over as Carolina’s Game 2 starter, replacing Frederik Andersen, who was excellent during the four-overtime loss on Thursday. Raanta did his part. He made 24 saves on 26 shots and didn’t allow a bad goal — both of the Panthers’ goals were from premium locations, but the Hurricanes are now facing a 2-0 deficit.

It’s been a resounding strength of the Hurricanes to be able to rotate goalies throughout the season. Andersen was the opening-day starter, then rookie sensation Pyotr Kochetkov caught fire in December, while Raanta spelled them both throughout the year due to injuries. The majority of contenders usually ride one goaltender throughout the playoffs, the Hurricanes are spoiled for choice, with three stellar options. Andersen was reinserted into the lineup after Raanta started the first five games of the Hurricanes’ first-round series against the New York Islanders.

Neither of their playoff goalies have played poorly, but the Hurricanes’ season is now on the line. Who gets the start for Game 3?

Carolina’s fourth line was easily its best

In many ways, the Hurricanes’ fourth line isn’t dissimilar from many teams that make a deep playoff run, consisting of a 38-year-old veteran in Paul Stastny and two relatively unknown quantities in Mackenzie MacEachern and Jack Drury. They won’t be anonymous for much longer if they play like they did in Game 2, as the nominal bottom-six group combined for five shots against one at 5-on-5 while securing 88.1 percent of the expected goals. This isn’t just a matter of the graphs reflecting some random aberrations, though, as Drury scored what appeared to be the go-ahead goal before Panthers head coach Paul Maurice correctly spotted him offside and it was nullified.

It went beyond the one disallowed goal. MacEachern was a constant thorn in the Panthers’ sides on the forecheck and the line generated three golden chances right after Barkov scored the game-tying goal. But as you read above, Bobrovsky was simply better. Drury and Stastny were rewarded with a key power play shift in the third period, but Bobrovsky outdid them once again. This isn’t meant to be predictive; only that the Hurricanes got their best impacts from their fourth line tonight, their Other Guys almost won the game and their best players have to better on the road in Game 3.

Aleksander Barkov’s wonder-goal is a reflection of the Panthers’ playoff run

Aleksander Barkov’s redemption arc was so beautiful to watch. Barkov took a silly penalty early in the second period, holding Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin, but the penalty kill did its job and they caught their opponent slipping. Carolina’s defensive rotations are among the best in the league, but the one time it led its guard down, Barkov snuck behind the defense, received a pass from Josh Mahura and then went for the spectacular.

A picture — or a video, I guess — is worth a thousand words as Barkov faked a behind-the-legs move before tucking the puck past Raanta.

“I’ve never seen that. I’ve never seen it. We were just talking about it in the coaches’ room and (goaltending coach) Robbie Tallas said he’s done that before,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said post-game.

Let’s hear it from no greater authority than Wayne Gretzky.

“We’ve all seen guys go through the legs now, it’s become kind of an art. A lot of guys try it, a lot of guys do it. But to see him in a Stanley Cup playoff game, under the gun, pressure situation, down 1-0, to make that move, that’s one of the greatest moves I’ve seen in the Stanley Cup playoffs.”

In some ways, Barkov’s golazo is a reflection of the Panthers’ postseason run: they often find themselves in self-inflicted holes, battle back and then score with jaw-dropping flair, puncturing the life out of their opponents. It’ll certainly be on the highlight reel entering the rink for Game 3.