With one point in Cup Final, Panthers’ Tkachuk wants Game 5 to be ‘best game of the series’

Matthew Tkachuk hasn’t been putting up the highlight-reel style plays this postseason as he did last year when he willed the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final.

But here’s the thing: The Panthers haven’t needed him to do so. The star winger is still putting up his points this postseason, just in a quieter fashion, and the Panthers are in a better position now than they were a year ago — entering Game 5 against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday just one victory from claiming the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.

“Looking forward to my best game of the series,” said Tkachuk, who is second on the team with 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) despite having just one point through four games in the Stanley Cup Final. “The good part about us is it’s not about one guy or individuals here. We’ve got a chance to capture the biggest goal of our lives tonight and we’re gonna do that.”

Panthers coach Paul Maurice said Tkachuk has been good this postseason and that the heroics from the playoffs a year ago — 11 goals, including four game-winners and three in overtime — maybe overshadow what he has done for Florida this time around in the playoffs.

“I will throw this back to a comment earlier that you become desensitized possibly by [Edmonton’s Connor] McDavid and [Leon] Drasaitl. We’ve got stars, too, but it’s not going to flashy every shift in his game. ... Both teams have really good players. Both teams’ power plays have been quiet and that’s why both teams’ star players’ numbers are what they are. He’s very close to leading our team in scoring and we just need solid [performances] out of each guy.”

Tkachuk knew the Panthers would be back in the Stanley Cup Finals. He’s a big reason why

So long, Everblades

The relationship between the Panthers and Florida Everblades has come to an end.

The Panthers on Monday announced they entered a multiyear affiliation agreement with the Savannah Ghost Pirates to be the new ECHL affiliate for both the Panthers and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers.

The Everblades were the Panthers’ ECHL affiliate the past two years, and they won the league championship (the Kelly Cup) both years.

The reason for the switch can be seen in geography. Players from the ECHL rarely go from that league straight to the NHL — usually that only applies when the Panthers need a goalie to serve as a last-minute backup due to illness or injury. Having the ECHL affiliate closer to the Checkers — Savannah, Georgia, is about a four-hour drive to Charlotte, North Carolina, — makes it easier to shuttle players between the teams when needed.

“It’s understandable and makes sense for our program in Charlotte and everybody understands that,” said Panthers coach Maurice, whose son Jake has worked as the Everblades’ director of communication and has been part of their broadcast team for the past two years. “The culture [the Everblades] have there, the team, Craig Brush, that whole program has been like that since I’ve been in Hartford. They have their own program. That doesn’t change due to affiliation.”

The Ghost Peppers are entering their third season in the ECHL. On May 28, they hired Jared Staal to be their head coach. Staal had spent the previous two seasons as an assistant coach with the Checkers, so he already has ties to the Panthers’ minor-league operations.

He said it

“It’s exciting. If you’re looking at it from that perspective, that’s why you play this game — since you’ve been a kid, you dream to be able to be in a situation where we are right now and where we have been in 2019. It’s a good time to be alive right now, especially with this group around us. That’s why we play.” - Panthers forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who won the Stanley Cup in 2019 with the St. Louis Blues, on playing a game with the Stanley Cup in the building.