HomeSportsNHL playoffs: Panthers complete sweep, stun Hurricanes on Tkachuk's late winner

NHL playoffs: Panthers complete sweep, stun Hurricanes on Tkachuk’s late winner

It’s not a Cinderella run anymore.

Matthew Tkachuk scored the game-winning goal with 4.3 seconds remaining as the Florida Panthers beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday.

are here five Proceeds from the Panthers’ series-clinching victory saw Florida advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1996.

All statistics from Natural State Trick and, unless otherwise stated.

Matthew Tkachuk Is The Most Clutch Player In The NHL

Tkachuk was one of the three best players in the NHL this season, by definition of being named a Hart Trophy finalist. During the playoffs, Tkachuk has made it clear that he is the most clutch player in the NHL, rivaled perhaps only by his teammate and goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky.

We’ve written about Tkachuk’s flair for theatrics throughout this series. He scored the game-winner during a quadruple-overtime epic in Game 1, then repeated his feat less than two minutes into the first overtime period of Game 2.

Matthew Tkachuk scored with less than five seconds remaining to put the Panthers past the Hurricanes and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. (Photo by Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Tkachuk is known for crossing the line with his physical play, but once he got into the post-whistle skirmish, he earned a power play for the Panthers, with Brent Burns and Jordan Martinuk on his side. Joined together in the adjacent box. He scored two goals on five shots in all positions in Game 4. Their primary line, which included Sam Bennett and Nick Cousins, outscored their opponents 10–3 at 5-on-5 in Game 4.

Not only is he one of the best players in the world, but he’s also been the most capped player in the league throughout the playoffs, and the Panthers are four wins away from immortalizing this newfound supremacy for the 25-year-old winger.

Sergei Bobrovsky Is Back On Earth But He’s Still Unbeatable

Bobrovsky is the frontrunner for the Conn Smythe Trophy and has turned into an unassailable force for the Panthers during their playoff run. Bobrovsky recorded his first postseason shutout in Game 3 but he flubbed the puck during Paul Statsny’s first-period goal on Wednesday to signal that he was human. It didn’t seem to matter. Although Bobrovsky’s shutout streak that spanned 133 minutes and 11 seconds was finally broken, he was still the best player on the ice during Game 4.

Bobrovsky made 36 stops and an expected 1.36 saves as the Panthers swept a higher-seeded opponent in the third round in a row. It’s not entirely fair to say that the Hurricanes were simply stunned by historically good goaltending because it would diminish the contributions of the rest of the team, but Bobrovsky is the major factor. He allowed a total of five goals in the four-game sweep and made several stops against a Hurricanes team that often posted the difference between better shots and creating chances.

Any discussion of this series begins with Bobrovsky and is punctuated by Tkachuk. Bobrovsky did not even make his playoff debut as the Panthers’ starter. Now he’s on track to solidify what could be an unconventional ticket to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Storm moderated forecast data but it didn’t matter

Predictive statistics are useful in improving understanding of the modern game, but they are only helpful to an extent – you can expect goals all you want, but it has to translate into actual goals. You have to feel for the Hurricanes, who were probably the better team on paper and it didn’t matter.

Carolina beat Florida 39–24 and controlled 53.7 percent of expected goals on 5-on-5 in Game 4. During the four-game series, Carolina beat Florida 143–110, controlling 57.35 of the expected goals at 5–5. On-5. In all situations, Carolina’s shot advantage becomes 355-272 with 58 percent of expected goals. That’s good to know – the Hurricanes not only refused to roll over and die, but they threw everything they had at the Panthers.

None of this really matters in the long run. Florida defeated Carolina 6–4 in 5-on-5 and 10–6 in all situations. When we look back on this series five years from now, all people will remember is Bobrovsky rising to a different level and Tkachuk scoring three game-winning goals. That’s too bad, because within the margin, the Hurricanes deserved better than a four-game sweep.

Sam Bennett earned a reputation as one of the NHL’s biggest pests

Bennett is establishing himself as one of the NHL’s biggest pests, but you have to be skilled in equal measure to earn that distinction, or else fans and opponents alike won’t care. Bennett played his quintessential game on Wednesday, setting up a screen on Tkachuk’s game-winning goal.

To make it clear, we’re never going to celebrate injuries, but it’s worth noting Bennett’s massive, legit hit on Hurricanes defenseman Jacob Slavin changed the tenor of the game. Slavin was dismissed shortly before the first intermission.

Bennett finished the game with a game-high six shots in all positions, threw four hits, drew one penalty, and had a team-high 0.64 personal expected goals against at 5-on-5. Beyond the stat sheet, Bennett won puck battles, got in Hurricanes’ faces, set screens and did all the little things teams needed to win the post-season.

He is not just an insect that is producing more than is expected of him. Bennett recorded 11 points in 15 games and although he is a potential enemy of Maple Leafs and Hurricanes fans – no one in Toronto will forget that he was not penalized for injuring Matthew Nice in Game 2 of the second round. Tha — Bennett does more than just cheer, and he’s a central part of the Panthers reaching the finals for the first time since 1996, the year he was born.

If you read the headlines, Florida is a two-man squad consisting of Bobrovsky and Tkachuk. That would be wildly unfair. Florida’s depth has shone throughout the playoffs and we have to give our flowers to Duclair and Forsling.

Duclair’s tremendous speed is worth noting in person and it kept the Hurricanes’ defense on their heels throughout the series. The 27-year-old scored the opening goal of the game when Fredrik Andersen lost track of the puck in his skates, and he was an offensive dynamo in Game 1 with two assists and eight shots. Prior to their playoff run, the Panthers’ team speed was their defining quality and few exemplified this better than Duclair. He’s a smart and opportunistic player who won’t take unnecessary risks and will be a handful for the Golden Knights or Stars – okay, come on, it’ll be the Golden Knights – to handle in the finals.

Forsling was almost out of the NHL, but he has been an excellent first pairing option with his more distinguished defense partner, Aaron Ekblad. The 27-year-old registered his first points of the series in Game 4 on Tkachuk’s first two goals, but like Duclair, he did all the little things well. Forsling has scored 16 goals on the ice, eight in the entire playoff contest, and he has been able to get huge minutes for the Panthers, playing 55:41 in the Game 1 epic.

Duclair and Forsling will never get top billing, but if the Panthers win the Stanley Cup, expect their stories to resonate throughout the hockey world.



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