(Sunrise) Keith Tkachuk hasn’t played in a game for the Florida Panthers, and he hadn’t had an assist in nearly 13 years in the National Hockey League. However, on March 29, he provided perhaps the Panthers’ most valuable contribution to the season.
A fiery outing by Tkachuk — himself a former NHL superstar and father of Panthers star Matthew — on a Toronto morning radio show happened to coincide with the moment the tide turned in favor of the Panthers.
Hours later, they overcame the Toronto Maple Leafs, a win that set the tone for a push that helped them advance to the Eastern Conference playoffs and then reach the Grand Finals in style. of the Stanley Cup.
“He’s still in downtime,” Matthew Tkachuk said, explaining why he pressed his father not to grant any more interviews at this time.
It does not matter. His words still stand and he did not offend the Panthers. Next week, Florida will play Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals in either Las Vegas or Dallas.
“We’re here because of him,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said.
Barkov was not joking. The reasons for the Panthers’ improbable run since the start of the playoffs are myriad.
An airtight defense led by goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky; finding a way to erase a 3-1 first-round deficit against the heavily favored Boston Bruins to advance to the next round; the fact that it only took nine games to then eliminate the Maple Leafs and the Carolina Hurricanes. However, the date of March 29 was certainly one of the pivotal moments of the season.
“I’m a little disappointed with the Panthers,” Keith Tkachuk said that morning during an interview with TSN 1050 radio station.
He hadn’t finished. Keith Tkachuk also questioned the intensity of the Panthers’ game.
“It’s up to them to kick their ass and start playing like the team that should be a lot better than what they’re showing right now,” he added.
On the day he made his comments, the Panthers seemed destined to miss the playoffs. They had just suffered four straight losses. They were down 2-1 to the Maple Leafs late in regulation that night, and they knew full well that a loss could be the start of an inevitable conclusion.
It was also that night that exasperated head coach Paul Maurice threw a holy rage behind the players’ bench in the second period that would go viral. The words he used probably wouldn’t have made it to the radio.
Eventually, everything fell into place and just in time. Sam Reinhart scored the tying goal with a minute left in regulation, Brandon Montour hit the target in overtime and the Panthers won 3-2.
Starting with this game, the Panthers have won 18 of their last 24 meetings. Ten of those wins came after erasing deficits, and seven came in overtime.
No one accuses them of lacking firmness.
“The run has been unreal,” said Matthew Tkachuk, one of the Panthers’ heroes this spring with nine goals, including three in overtime, and 12 assists in 16 games since the start of the playoffs.
Keith Tkachuk played 18 NHL campaigns and finished his career with 538 goals and 527 assists in the regular season, then 28 goals and 28 assists in 89 playoff games.
But he never reached the Stanley Cup final. So there’s a certain irony in that story: he couldn’t carry the Winnipeg Jets, Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues or Atlanta Thrashers to the Finals. But his words clearly played a part in the Panthers achieving it for only the second time in team history, the other being 27 years ago.
Matthew Tkachuk wasn’t even alive at the time. Today, he is four cup wins away, thanks in large part to his three decisive goals against the Hurricanes.
“He’s a very, very gifted man,” Maurice described.
More than a decade after hanging up his skates, his father still has a sense of the big moments.