Matthew Tkachuk delivered for Florida, again. Sergei Bobrovsky denied Carolina – again.

The wait is over: After 27 years, the Florida Panthers, no longer a hockey joke, will once again play for the game’s biggest prize.

Tkachuk scored his second goal of the game with 4.9 seconds remaining, leading the Panthers to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 and to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1996 after sweeping the Eastern Conference final.

The Panthers will play in Las Vegas or Dallas for the Stanley Cup starting next week; Vegas currently leads the Western Conference title series 3-0.

“It was pure joy,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.

Bobrovsky stopped 36 shots to cap his stellar series: four games, four one-goal wins, three of them basically sudden death, a .966 save percentage after stopping 174 of the 180 shots he faced. The first two wins came in overtime, and this one might as well have been.

The Panthers scored 10 goals in the series, and Bobrovsky made sure those were all they needed. They were the No. 8 seed, the last team, the longest of the longest shots, which is consistent with their record, after not winning a single playoff series in 26 years, a drought that ended last season.

And now, beasts from the East. Tkachuk came in last summer saying he wanted to bring Florida a Cup. He’s four wins away.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bobrovsky said. “We show resilience…and we’re lucky to have Chucky on our side. He knows how to score big goals.”

NHL Senior Vice President Brian Jennings was on hand to present the Prince of Wales Trophy. After a few photos, Aleksander Barkov, the captain who had two assists, one of them on the game-winning goal, grabbed him and carried him away. Some teams touch it. Some don’t. Some of the Panthers did, but Barkov didn’t miss it.

That will wait for the grand prize.

“It’s hard to explain right now. It all happened so fast,” Barkov said. “It means a lot. It definitely does… It hasn’t been easy and no one said it would be easy.”

Tkachuk added: “We earned it, and we definitely didn’t do it the easy way. We earned it.”

Members of a hockey team and a man in a suit pose at center ice with a trophy.
Panthers players pose with the Prince of Wales trophy alongside NHL Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer Brian Jennings after sweeping the Hurricanes. (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Ryan Lomberg and Anthony Duclair had the other goals for Florida, which swept a series for the first time in franchise history.

Jordan Staal, his brothers Eric and Marc play for the Panthers, received a stumble penalty with 57 seconds remaining in regulation, setting up the power play that Tkachuk finished off after slotting into the slot and beating Frederik Andersen to start a celebration. wild.

‘We have our eyes on something different’

“Eastern Conference champions,” Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “He’s really cool. There’s no doubt about it. But you know, at the end of the day, we have our eyes on something different.”

Toy rats, Panthers tradition, a nod to the unwanted locker room guests of the old Florida stadium in 1996, descended from the stands and the goal had to survive official review. But the rats were picked up, the target was deemed good, and 27 years of waiting was officially over 4.9 seconds later.

Jesper Fast seemed to have saved the season for Carolina, getting a game-tying goal with 3:22 remaining in regulation. Paul Stastny and Teuvo Teravainen scored the first two goals of the night for the Hurricanes, while Brady Skjei and Jordan Martinook each had two assists. Andersen saved 21 shots.

“Everyone is going to say: ‘You got swept away.’ That’s not what happened,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I watched the game. I’m there. I’m cutting the games. We are in the game. We didn’t lose four games. They defeated us, but we were there. This could have gone the other way. It could have been four games the other way.”

That was not bitter grapes. He was correct. A bounce here, a bounce there, a Bobrovsky not here, a Bobrovsky not there, and this series could have been very different.

But Bob was the best he could. Tkachuk was clutch, over and over again. And Florida is closer to a Cup than ever; the Panthers were swept by Colorado in the 1996 final.

Towels waved, strobe lights flashed, and fans wasted no time letting the Panthers know they were ready for a clincher.

Tkachuk made it 2-0 on the power play halfway through the first. Carolina, a division championship-winning team with 113 points in the regular season, made it 2-1 later in the first on Stastny’s goal, and Teravainen tied it early in the second.

It was the first time, in nearly 14 periods of play to that point, that a team had a two-goal lead in this series. Every moment of action came with the score tied or someone up by one in the first 272 minutes (including all overtimes) of the series.

Lomberg’s goal midway through the second gave Florida the lead again. It stayed that way until Fast got the tie with 3:22 remaining, and then Tkachuk finished it off, leading the Panthers to the title round in his first season.

“It’s been amazing since July since I got here,” Tkachuk said. “And hopefully we can cap off this incredible year.”


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