Sunrise, Fla. (WGR 550/WBEN) - For the first time since 1996, the Florida Panthers are heading to the Stanley Cup Final.
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Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final certainly had its flair for the dramatic, as Matthew Tkachuk, once again, seals the deal with a late power play goal to give the Panthers a 4-3 win and a four-game sweep of the Carolina Panthers at FLA Live Arena.
After giving up the game-tying goal, 3-3, with 3:22 left in the third period, the Panthers were awarded a power play with just 57 seconds remaining in regulation when Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal was penalized for tripping.
With time winding down on the clock, Tkachuk accepted a pass from captain Aleksander Barkov below the Carolina red line, swung out to the slot, and was able to fire a puck behind goalie Frederik Andersen, who was impeded in his crease by teammate Brett Pesce.
After a brief league review for goaltender interference, the NHL's situation room determined Sam Bennett did not cause Pesce to interfere with Andersen, and the celebration in Sunrise was allowed to commence.
For Tkachuk, it was his second goal of the night after netting Florida's second goal of the game in the first period. The goal was also the fourth tally of the series for Tkachuk in the series.
More importantly for the Panthers, Tkachuk's goal was his third game-winning goal of the series. The 25-year-old had also scored the game-winning overtime goals in both Games 1 and 2 of the series in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Tkachuk continues his impressive play this postseason, performing at a Conn Smythe Trophy level with nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points in 16 games played. He also scored the overtime game-winning goal in Game 5 of the Panthers' first round series against the Boston Bruins that helped kickstart a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit.
If there has been any other player to compete with Tkachuk for the Conn Smythe so far this postseason has been Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was fantastic for Florida in another winning effort. The 34-year-old veteran was able to turn aside 36 shots on 39 shots faced on Wednesday, and finished the series with a 1.12 goals-against average, a .966 save percentage and a shutout win in Game 3.
So far this postseason, Bobrovsky has been a difference maker for the Panthers, providing stability in goal since taking over for Alex Lyon in Game 4 of Florida's series with the Bruins. In 14 games played, Bobrovsky is 11-2 with a 2.21 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage and his one shutout.
The Panthers got the scoring started early with forward Anthony Duclair netting his third of the Stanley Cup Playoffs just 41 seconds in the first period.
After Tkachuk's first goal of the night at the 10:23 mark, the Hurricanes responded with a pair of goals to tie the game at 2-2 with 17:09 remaining in the second period.
Florida re-gained the lead near the halfway point of the second period as Ryan Lomberg stayed with the play up ice, went to the net and finished off a beautiful passing play with Colin White and Eric Staal for his first goal of the playoffs.
The Hurricanes got the game-tying goal from Jesper Fast with 3:22 remaining in the third period, but it was not enough to stop the Panthers from clinching the Eastern Conference and winning their first Prince of Wales Trophy since the 1995-96 season.
Florida will be looking for its first championship, let alone win in the Stanley Cup Final, as they were swept in their only trip there against Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche.
The Panthers await the winner of the Western Conference Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars. Vegas currently leads the series, 3-0, with a chance to sweep the Stars on Thursday night in Dallas at American Airlines Center.