The Florida Panthers are moving on to the Eastern Conference final with a chip on their shoulder.
The Panthers earned a 3-2 overtime win over the Maple Leafs on Friday, ending Toronto’s season in a tidy five games. After eliminating a historic Boston Bruins team in the first round, the Panthers were underdogs yet again in Round 2 and ended up winning the series, yet again.
Panthers star winger Matthew Tkachuk is well aware of how no one chose his team to win either series and is now enjoying the schadenfreude.
“No one gave us a chance against Boston,” Tkachuk said after the Game 5 win. “Literally nobody, except the guys in the room. Those same people are saying the same stuff before this series. … I don't think they want Florida that much anymore. I wasn't hearing many of those [chants] after that game and that may be the best part."
"I don't think they want Florida that much anymore. I wasn't hearing many of those after that game and that may be the best part."
Matthew Tkachuk spoke to @SNkylebukauskas about the @FlaPanthers' series win over the Leafs and moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals. pic.twitter.com/1g7rmEJXbe
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 13, 2023
Immediately after Toronto won its first playoff series since 2004 a couple weeks ago, fans were seen chanting “We want Florida” before the Leafs’ second-round opponent was decided. So, of course Tkachuk took that opportunity to get one last rib in on how doubted his team was before the postseason began.
And to take it one step further, the official Panthers team store immediately released shirts with that slogan on them, mocking those that viewed them as an easy team to beat.
— FLA Team Shop (@FlaTeamShop) May 13, 2023
Now the Panthers have another tough task ahead of them, as they are set to face the Carolina Hurricanes in the East final. A team that has felt destined to lift a trophy with its current core of players will now be facing a Florida group that is super-charged after slaying two giants in back-to-back series victories.
Hurricanes versus Panthers might not have been the most predictable series a few weeks ago, but it is going to be a gutsy one and Tkachuk will be at the centre of it, most likely wearing that new t-shirt.