Stanley Cup Final: Game 3 has myth-making potential for Matthew Tkachuk

The Florida Panthers superstar is in the midst of penning an incredible story, and Game 3 made for a compelling chapter.

From a branding standpoint, Matthew Tkachuk has taken off in the last two months.

The Florida Panthers star is tied for the playoff lead in points, he scored three game-winning goals in a single series (with two of them coming in overtime), and the team he's leading is one of the great underdog stories in recent NHL history.

His rapidly increasing fame earned him some air time with the NBA on TNT crew, and he's being talked about as a possible future face of the league.

The praise that's coming Tkachuk's way isn't just the result of these playoffs. He's put together two straight 100-point seasons and produced some of the best advanced metrics in the NHL during the regular season.

He is not an overnight success.

But there's a difference between being a star and authoring a legend that will be remembered in NHL circles for decades to come, and the myth-building Tkachuk is doing right now is only possible through spectacular playoff success.

Matthew Tkachuk's stock has taken off since the beginning of the playoffs and hit a new high in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. (Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Matthew Tkachuk's stock has taken off since the beginning of the playoffs and hit a new high in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. (Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On Thursday night he got closer to both that success and solidifying a story for the ages to go with it.

In Game 3, the Panthers were less than three minutes from falling into a 3-0 hole that would have all but guaranteed a Stanley Cup win for the Vegas Golden Knights. But Tkachuk scored the equalizer from in tight to keep his team afloat and give them the chance to get right back into the series.

That's a dramatic scenario without any other context, but it gets a little more narrative juice considering Tkachuk had to leave the game due to a huge hit from Keegan Kolesar earlier in the contest.

That makes this a comeback story within a comeback story. If Florida comes back in the series, we'll have a nesting doll situation on our hands.

There is a scenario where the Panthers fight their way back from a 2-0 deficit and win the Stanley Cup. In that world, Tkachuk's Game 3 will never be forgotten.

If a guy who has three overtime winners in the playoffs — plus a series ender with four seconds left on the clock — comes back into a game he seemed to be out of and scores a tying goal with a couple minutes left, that's a big deal. If keeping his team in that game sparks a series comeback from down 2-0, we're talking about "tell your grandkids" stuff.

Unfortunately for all the storytellers out there, that's still not a likely scenario. The Golden Knights entered this series as heavy favourites, and FiveThirtyEight is giving them a 74% chance of winning the Stanley Cup thanks to their current 2-1 edge.

If the Golden Knights are able to wrap things up, the Tkachuk storyline will be sidelined and his Game 3 will be a footnote, at most. Those who look at the box score in the future will see that Carter Verhaeghe scored the winner, and Tkachuk skated 17:53 — a low number for the star, but not one that clearly denotes anything unusual. The hit he took could easily slip out of our collective memories.

Until the series resumes, we're living in a moment where what we just saw might be something NHL fans talk about forever or seldom think about again. Game 4 will provide some clarity on that count.