The Florida Panthers Stanley Cup Playoffs journey reaches its final chapters

This Florida Panthers season was a journey begging to be written, dating all the way back to the summer of 2022. 


If we were to break the season down like a book, Chapter one began in June. 


Panthers General Manager Bill Zito made the call to bring in Paul Maurice for interim head coach Andrew Brunette. Replacing the coach who just won the Presidents’ Trophy for someone who had resigned from their previous head coaching job the season prior was met with many questions from the hockey world. Nonetheless, this was the first domino to fall.


The second chapter would come a month later — with an even more jaw dropping move from Zito. After a disappointing end to what looked to be a Stanley Cup potential season , Zito sent shock waves through the hockey world — trading fan favorite Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar to Calgary for then 24-year-old Matthew Tkachuk. 


The Panthers entered 2022-2023 with a new coach, a new star player and many big departures from the Presidents’ Trophy winning team of the previous season.  


If we were to skip ahead in this story, the chapters that take up most of the ‘rising action’ were ones that had many questioning the future of this team. 


For months, the Panthers were teetering between wins and losses — with no continued streak of success to be found. November to late January was a rough stretch for the team, one which made it seem like their playoff chances were in the mud. 


The team faced plenty of adversity through their mediocre spell towards the middle of the season. They ran into depleted lineups; not able to play their full team together for months because of injuries or illnesses. They had an extremely grueling January schedule — playing nine road games across all of North America. 


Results weren’t favorable, and the criticism was loud. 


If you just got started following the Panthers as this playoff run began, you may be surprised to know that a good portion of the fan base were calling for Paul Maurice’s head just a few months prior. That discourse seems like ages ago as he is now just one win away from tying Doug MacLean for most playoff wins by a coach in Florida Panthers history, but more importantly — four wins away from the Stanley Cup. 


Through the “dark” months of this journey, there were sprinkles of brightness that would eventually become major factors in the future success of the season. 


Players thriving amidst the calamity included Brandon Montour, who was bumped up the lineup after the offseason trade of MacKenzie Weegar. More minutes and bigger opportunities from the new coaching staff saw Montour set franchise records, including points by a defenseman in a single season. 


Carter Verhaeghe would be another bright spot in Florida’s imperfect regular season. The 27-year-old would become the second Panther player ever to score 40 goals in a season, something that had not been done since Pavel Bure did it twice in the early 2000s. 


If goaltender Alex Lyon didn’t come into the lineup at the end of March and win six straight games with the regular season winding down, Florida would not have made this magical run to the Stanley Cup Final. They wouldn’t have made the playoffs.  


There’s been many great stories that have been carved out of this season, with even more being written this postseason. 


Matthew Tkachuk wouldn’t get a chapter in this book — he’d get his own arc. The new man in town, or should we say superstar, was consistently the most important player for the Panthers this season. When the team was losing, Tkachuk was performing. When the team was winning, Tkachuk certainly was a factor. 


When the postseason began, Tkachuk’s stardom reached new heights. His game winning OT goal against Boston in Game 5 kept the Panthers dream alive. A month later in the Eastern Conference Final he managed to one up that historic goal… three times. 


“He’s unbelievable,” Panthers captain Sasha Barkov said about Tkachuk after they won the Eastern Conference Final. “It’s been eye opening how great of a person he is and how he breathes hockey… it’s unreal.”


As we reach the climax of this story, the one who is sitting atop the throne has to be Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. 


Bobrovsky, or ‘Bobrovka’, as TNT analyst Charles Barkey referred to him as, was monumental in every series this run.


In the Boston series, he won three consecutive games facing elimination. Against Toronto, he shutdown the Leafs’ elite forwards for most of the series. And as the Carolina storm surged toward his net, he backstopped the Panthers to a sweep. 


“He’s our backbone, he’s our best player,” Verhaeghe said earlier this week about Bobrovsky. 


Following their Eastern Conference Final win, Paul Maurice gave his team a heartfelt speech, which was posted to the NHL social media accounts. The speech was what you’d expect of Maurice — somewhat poetic, and motivational in simple words. 


“We are going to go now into, for all of us, the greatest time in our lives. It’s a lifetime of work to get to this, and there’s something so much more important,” said Maurice. “It’s actually not the trophy, it’s the time we’re going to spend together.”


The early doubts from this story were answered as the playoffs ensued. Whether that was the Paul Maurice hire, the Matthew Tkachuk trade or the endless discourse surrounding Sergei Bobrovsky — none of those are being debated anymore.


Now the Panthers are preparing to write the final pages of this story — one which they hope to have a happy ending. 


This last stretch is what the players have worked their entire lives for. Getting the chance to play for the greatest trophy in team sports — the Stanley Cup. “It’s something you dream of since you started to play hockey.” Anton Lundell said. 


12 wins down, four more to go. If the Panthers can place the final puck on their Stanley Cup journey board — they’ll be champions of the hockey world.

Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Heat unfocused in Game 5 loss in Boston

One aspect of the regular season has carried over for the Heat in the Playoffs lately: the need to get things done the hard way. And it’s back to Miami for Game 6 following two straight Ls after winning the first three. Pressure is mounting on both sides.

The Celtics now have high expectations to beat the Heat. But two consecutive wins have elevated the confidence of the Green monster. The White and Red still control the series, yet it has allowed the speculation of Boston making history to go from whispers to bold public predictions by famous media members. It doesn’t feel like the Heat is trying to avoid being the first team in NBA history to avoid giving up a 3-0 lead, yet. That could change if the squad is not careful.

At least two ESPN peeps have courageously said the Celtics will be the first to overcome the 0-3 albatross: Ignoramus Mike Greenberg and ex-player Richard Jefferson.

Game 6 is in Miami, but the Celtics snatched the fourth one there, making it capable of going behind enemy lines for a dub against this opponent. Keep in mind, the Cs defeated the Heat in the last three matches in Miami last season. That’s an outfit immune to the Miami flu.

The Heatles were frazzled again Thursday. There was a lack of synchronicity on both sides. First, the hosts overhelped on the wrong assignments and were delayed closing out to marksmen. On offense, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo shot blanks and couldn’t stop the bleeding.

Lead guard Gabe Vincent was absent with a sprained left ankle. Kyle Lowry started for him but was invisible, minus when committing four turnovers and one dime off a pick-and-pop play with Adebayo.

It only took Boston five minutes to ascend to a double-digit lead it never conceded. Jayson Tatum skinned the defense with sleight of hand when the Heat doubled him and found open snipers in transition. Covered or open, Jaylen Brown spat fire from deep and broke the 2-3 zone by going hard at the middle.

The visitors cut the deficit to a dozen near the end of the second quarter. Yet, the Cs countered with a pair of steals and two triples to extend the advantage back to 17 points.

Adebayo and Butler played 12 minutes in the third quarter, but the visitors couldn’t make up the difference. Coach Erik Spoelstra saw enough at the start of the fourth to sit Butler on the bench, as he already had #13.

At the postgame presser, Butler said the team needed to play better, starting earlier.

The role players become self-reliant when Butler successfully leads the attack, so it’s incumbent upon him to convert more than four points on one of five attempts in 12 opening minutes while Tatum and friends feast inside the paint.

Spoelstra said he isn’t concerned about the team’s mental state.

“We have a gnarly group,” Spoelstra said. “I think so much of that is overrated. It’s a competitive series. You always expect things to be challenging in a Conference Finals, and one game doesn’t lead into the next game. Based off all the experience we’ve had…”

Every series is different.  What Spoelstra said was true facing off with the Bucks and Knicks, but in round three, the Heat’s had its least inspiring performance of the Playoffs following a loss in its building.  A review in the film room will sting some egos but it might be the right antidote to bury the Green.


The Heat will not practice Friday.

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Aleksander Barkov carries the Prince of Wales Trophy after the Florida Panthers earned a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Pressure Point: Barkov the reliable engine that drove Florida Panthers to the Cup Final

The two most glaring reasons the Florida Panthers are headed to the Stanley Cup Final are named Matthew Tkachuk and Sergei Bobrovsky.

The indomitable duo, goalie and forward, has supplied the drama at opposite ends of the ice with heart-stopping saves and mind-boggling goals time and again.

The glue between those two, the cohesive link holding it all together, is Aleksander Barkov, the highly skilled workhorse filling every need along 200 feet.

Gratifying to see the captain and longest tenured Panther skating off with the Prince of Wales Trophy as Eastern Conference champs after Tkachuk’s goal with 4.9 second remaining completed a four-game sweep of Carolina to send Florida to its first Cup Final in 27 years — and not giving a damn about the supposed superstition about touching the semifinals trophy.

Barkov has been around for 10 of those seasons, most of them frustrating and forgettable.

He is finally getting recognition from a wide audience that eluded him while playing in one of the most overlooked NHL outposts.

Barkov impresses The Great One

It would not be correct to say that Barkov has been underrated. He won a Selke Trophy as the best two-way forward in the league and a Lady Byng given to the top scoring player who commits the fewest penalties.

This year he’s up for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy that goes to “the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”

But seeing is believing. No less than Wayne Gretzky called Barkov’s highlight-reel goal in Game 2 of the Eastern finals “one of the greatest moves I have seen in the Stanley Cup playoffs.”

Barkov faked sliding the puck between his legs, getting goalie Antti Raanta to commit, then pulled it back and flipped a backhand into the net.

Paul Maurice, in his first year as Panthers coach, said he’d never seen anything like it. But those of us who have watched Barkov for a decade have seen him pull several through-the-legs tricks in shootouts as well as one dazzling in-game goal in 2019 against Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, a likely Hall-of-Famer.

Panthers defenseman Radko Gudas said, “I would not even think of doing anything like that. He is our leader for a reason. He is stepping up in big ways for us. You know, he is the man for the job.”

Barkov’s contributions multifaceted

Theatrical moments aside, the way to best appreciate Barkov is to focus on him throughout a shift. Watch how he powers up and down the ice, as aggressive in the defensive zone as leading a rush. It’s no coincidence that the rest of the Panthers forwards have similarly sold out in support of Bobrovsky.

They needed to in Game 3 after Barkov exited in the first period with a lower-body injury and were able to hold on to a 1-0 win. The Panthers dodged a catastrophic blow to their Cup chances as Barkov was able to return for Game 4 — after a pregame sniff of smelling salts, his line scored in the first 41 seconds on a goal by Anthony Duclair with Barkov getting the primary assist.

It was Barkov who put the puck on Tkachuk’s stick for the series-sealing goal — his 14th points (including four goals) in 16 playoff games.

His contribution extends well beyond the scoresheet. Not only vital to the offense, Barkov is the Panthers’ best penalty killer. His presence is felt in so many areas.

In the four-overtime marathon win in Game 1 of the Eastern finals, Barkov took 50 faceoffs and won 28 (56 percent) while playing over 44 minutes. He had a goal and an assist, three shots on goal, five hits and three takeaways.

Barkov first Finnish Cup captain

Maurice said, “He has the size, really fine hands and the ability to make plays. He is just a very powerful man. Whether it’s an explosion into holes, a puck that gets off his stick hard and we’ve also seen some pretty nice physicality in the playoffs this year.”

Someone on Twitter pointed out that in the Eastern finals, the Panthers outscored Carolina 6-0 with Barkov on the ice while the Hurricanes had a 6-4 edge when he was off.

Barkov is one of those special athletes that fans deserve to see compete for a championship. He was visibly moved when informed that he will be the first Finnish player to captain a team in a Stanley Cup Final. (He is an ethnic Russian who grew up in Finland).

“Wow, I didn’t know that. That means a lot. … It feels great right now. Maybe later, after the season or after the career, maybe I’ll understand what really happened,” he said, adding, “It’s not just [Tkachuk] leading, me leading, it’s everyone in our room, solid brothers. Those guys are the leaders as well.”

Typical of the unassuming star, who Maurice — after the flashy goal in Game 2 — said was “the least showboating player I’ve ever coached by far. Most times he scores, you kind of expect him to skate by the goalie, tap him on the pads and say, ‘Sorry about that.’ But he pulled that move because that was the only move that was going to work. There’s no one-upmanship or showmanship in that man.”

Now an NHL-wide audience has the chance to see what Barkov is all about on the biggest stage.

Barkov was a big reason Tkachuk lobbied for the trade that brought him to the Panthers from Calgary for Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar.

Panthers find winning playoff formula

At his introductory news conference in South Florida, Tkachuk called Barkov “a top-3 player in the NHL. That’s a fact.”

His is certainly one of three indispensable components of this Panthers drive to the Cup Final as a No. 8 seed. But it extends beyond Tkachuk, Bobrovsky and Barkov, throughout the ranks including gritty forwards such as Sam Bennett and fourth-liners Ryan Lomberg and Eric Staal.

The vibe is completely different than a year ago when the Panthers got swept in the second round of the playoffs after winning the Presidents’ Trophy.

“It’s about being able to wear a team down,” Tkachuk said of the winning formula that surfaced in the first-round series upset of the Boston Bruins, this year’s Presidents’ Trophy winner. “The physicality, and our forechecks are really solid. We’ve got a bunch of speed up front and a bunch of heavy players that can play that way. I think we have 12 forwards that play that way.”

All following the example of their captain.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Panthers, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns


Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Heat Drop Game 4 to Celtics in Miami

The Heat remain one win away from the Finals. It was favored by a point and a half to wrap up the series Tuesday but was gashed in a 17-point defeat for its first in Miami during the Playoffs. This Just In: Coach Joe Mazzulla prepared for the outing by watching Good Will Hunting instead of his thousandth rerun of The Town.

An L in Game 4 sends the group back into the wolf’s den with an opportunity to deliver Boston cold, hard payback for last year. The 2022 Celtics beat the Heat in its previous three games in Miami. Returning the favor is now the objective.

The White and Red came out as flat as a plasma screen in the second half after leading by six. The rest of the way, the hosts converted 35% of their attempts and 18.8% from behind the 3-point line.

Jimmy Butler was the entire offense coming out of halftime. He logged 15 points by attacking drop coverage, isolating Robert Williams III on a drive and canning an open triple. Yet, the Heat recorded just 22 points in the frame.

Jayson Tatum supplied 14 of Boston’s 38 third-quarter points. He later overcame his late-game stage fright. Marcus Smart unexpectedly turned into a threat behind the arc. Al Horford dismembered the Heat’s defense with his passing. And Grant Williams swatted Butler’s shot on the baseline after getting targeted on a switch.

At the postgame presser, Butler said the loss would build momentum for Miami.

“We got to play like our backs are against the wall,” Butler said. “But I think all year long, we’ve been better when we had to do things the hard way.”

He’s not wrong. The Heat lost the first play-in game to Atlanta on its home court, which set up a winner-take- eighth seed match with Chicago. Miami won the latter, then pantsed the Bucks and conquered the Knicks.

Remember, FanDuel opened with Milwaukee beating Miami at a -1200 line. Giannis Antetokounmpo got hurt 11 minutes in and only played in two more games, but the Heat took out the darlings in five. BetMGM slightly favored New York to go to the ECF, and it was sent home in six by the Heat.

For Game 5, the Heat need Bam Adebayo to rediscover his form so the Cs don’t continue to extend the series. Tuesday, Adebayo attempted seven shots but only one in 17 second-half minutes. I reckon the ball didn’t find him more because he didn’t have his hands up often after a screen.

In the fourth quarter of Game 4, #13 wasn’t looking at the basket with malicious intent. The best adjustment the Heat can make is having Adebayo crank up the RPMs to maximum levels. I’ll wager Miami’s marksmen will strike their targets consistently if the big man attracts doubles inside the paint.

Coach Erik Spoelstra said there wasn’t flow to the offense, and the Celtics capitalized on it.

Defensively, [the Celtics] took advantage of our ball holding, “ Spoelstra said. “We were late getting into our stuff. They have good individual defenders. We have to do this thing collectively, that’s when we’re at our best. And then dial into the transition and the threes…”

Butler said the team would listen to some tunes and down beers to regroup. Then he said the Heat would win on the road.

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Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Heat push Celtics to the edge of elimination

Ben Affleck couldn’t have written a more stomach-turning piece for Bostonians. What seemed impossible before the first encounter became a reality as the eighth-seeded Heat captured a three-game lead over the Celtics.

Is now a bad time to remind everyone that no squad in NBA history has come back from down 0-3 to win a playoff series?

FanDuel, DraftKings and Barstool Sportsbooks opened the series with the Green as overwhelming favorites to win the conference. Even for Game 3, the experts had decided Boston should win despite the craterlike deficit while going behind enemy lines.

Then ESPN’s so-called “Matchup Predictor,” based on company analytics, gave the Heat a 27.3% chance of winning the match. Early and adjusted prognostics on Miami never passed the smell test, but two games in, Jayson Tatum confidently walked into the Kaseya Center, covered in white, like he was heading for Tony Montana’s wedding.

At halftime, the hosts led by 15 points, while Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler were still in single digits on their scorecards. Gabe Vincent burned the allegedly reputable defender Derrick White off the dribble, plus hit deep jumpers in his face. Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson combined for 21 of the Heat’s 25 bench points, while the visiting reserve crew logged 10.

Through 24 minutes, Miami had suppressed Boston to 31% shooting behind the arc with a mix of man-to-man coverage and the 2-3 zone. Ten offensive rebounds provided the Cs with nine additional shots at the goal, but it had converted three fewer attempts than the Heat.

In the third quarter, the hosts emerged beaming into the lane and converting shots at the top of the key. Within a few minutes, the Celtics yielded as Heat’s lead broke 20 points, and White Hot supporters bounced off their seats in elation.

Butler dribbled to the baseline for a jumper over White and isolated Robert Williams III at the elbow, nailing a pull-up. Vincent scored against Al Horford in drop coverage twice, from outside and up close, and splashed a fastbreak trifecta. On pick and roll with Max Strus, Adebayo slammed a ferocious lob over Grant Williams’ head.

Heading into the fourth interval, the Heat was up 30 points. The only starter to see the floor for Miami was Vincent. For the Celtics, it was Smart, indicating the white flag waved early.

At the postgame presser, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla fell on the sword, yet said his group had no mentality in his last breaths.

“I didn’t have them ready to play,” Mazzulla said. “Whatever it was, whether it was the starting lineup, whether it was an adjustment, I have to get them in a better place. That’s on me.”

Mazzulla’s guys lost their poise. The Heat was up 18 points two minutes into the second half when Marcus Smart threw a punch at Caleb Martin while tracking a miss under the rim. Referee Curtis Blair stopped the clock as the officials gathered for a review of a hostile act.

Naturally, the refs were too slow on the draw to call a second technical foul on Smart. They didn’t need a previous infraction to toss him after watching the replay of his loose hands. I suspect Smart wasn’t exiled because he seemed remorseful, and Martin didn’t look to want to whoop his rear.

I wager the Green Goblin would not have walked away from that unscathed had he tried it with someone he didn’t know on the blacktops. Smart lost control. Keeping him in the game was a dangerous decision by the refs.

When Mazzulla was asked about the disconnect between him and his players, he said, “It’s where I have to be better to figure out what this team needs to make sure that they are connected, they are physical, and they are together by the time they step on the floor.”

At least he didn’t give away publicly what caused the rift. If I were Mazzulla, I’d invest in a Ouija board with hopes of communicating with Red Auerbach for sage counsel on Xs & Os and motivating the troops.

In the Heat’s press room, coach Erik Spoelstra credited his team’s pent-up feelings with the inspiration for the statement performance.

“We are getting closer, but we still have to finish this off… You could tell by the morning session how much it means to everybody, but then you have to prove it and do it on the wood.”

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The lights shine bright on the Florida Panthers’ stars this postseason

Having two or three players perform in the playoffs won’t get you to the end goal. There’s no mistaking the significance in an entire team effort to win you multiple playoff series, and eventually the Stanley Cup. 


In the Florida Panthers case, they’ve had the necessary contributions up and down the lineup that’s brought them within two games of playing for hockey’s biggest prize . 


Whether it was Zac Dalpe’s Game 6 tying goal against Boston or Nick Cousins’ series winning OT goal in Toronto, Florida has had success running all 18 skaters this postseason. Look at Carter Verhaeghe, his 13 even strength points is tied for most in the playoffs. Go down the lineup to 21-year-old Anton Lundell — he’s played a huge role as the center of Florida’s third line. 


When your whole team is going that’s great — but when you pair that with your “big-time” players rising to the occasion — it’s a recipe for success.


Tkachuk, Barkov, Bobrovsky. The trio are the highest paid players on the Panthers and as you’d expect, an integral part to Florida’s operation. 


In his first season with the team, Matthew Tkachuk has done everything you’d expect of the superstar, and then some. 


Last night’s Game 2 win in Raleigh, N.C. saw Tkachuk score his third overtime winning goal of the playoffs, with the last two coming back-to-back in the Eastern Conference Finals.


He’s been a playoff performer or “gamer”, as Head Coach Paul Maurice has referred to the 25-year-old winger.


Tkachuk has been the catalyst of the Panthers’ offense in the playoffs — as demonstrated by his team high 18 points this postseason — which is second most amongst active players in the playoffs.


“He’s been huge for us,” Panthers captain Sasha Barkov said when speaking about Tkachuk. “Not just scoring goals (or) making plays. Everything about being a hockey player in the team, being a leader in the team… he’s been unbelievable.”


Florida’s captain has continuously praised Tkachuk for his play, and leadership role. But maybe the humble Barkov should look in the mirror — because he’s been just as important to the team. 


This being his fifth go at the playoffs, Barkov has played like the dominant Selke Trophy center he is. 


Defensively, he’s been one of the top players in the postseason. In the second round he ranked first in numerous defensive categories including total blocked passes, d-zone loose puck recoveries, stick checks, and d-zone puck battle wins. 


And well, this absurd 5-on-5 stat as mentioned by Jackie Redmond


The first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals saw Barkov flash the clutch offensive part of his game. In Games 1 & 2 with the Panthers trailing 1-0, Barkov came to the rescue — scoring in both matches to tie the game for the Cats.


His goal in Game 2 where he faked a between the legs shot was met with admiration across the hockey world, even from the Great One.


“That was one of the greatest moves I’ve seen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs,” Wayne Gretzky said on TNT’s broadcast. 


Barkov’s response to Gretzky’s praise — “Well I’m pretty sure he’s scored bigger goals. But yeah, it means a lot coming from him so it’s nice to hear, for sure.”


Paul Maurice also got his fan moment when Barkov scored that goal.


“I’m watching [Barkov’s goal] on the monitor, I’m like oh my god he just did that, that is so awesome,” Maurcie said after Game 2.


The contributions from Tkachuk and Barkov this postseason have played an immense role in getting the Panthers into the position they are today. Despite that, the Panther who elevated his game higher than anyone else on this run is without question the most important man on the ice — Sergei Bobrovsky. 


The two-time Vezina winner is having by far the best postseason of his Panthers’ career, and he very well may be playing at a higher level than he was during the 2019 postseason with Columbus. 


Through 12 games, Bobrovsky has a 2.32 GAA, .931 SV% and six overtime wins. 


You don’t win in the playoffs if your goaltender isn’t performing, Bobrovsky is doing more than performing, he’s owned the net. 


“All the credit goes to him. His preparation before the game, the way he takes care of himself, he’s a true pro,” Nick Cousins said about Bobrovsky. “He’s a real leader for our team.” 


When you see a guy making as much money as Bobrovsky does, with the accolades he holds including the Vezinas and international hockey appearances, one would think that guy knows he’s different from other players. I can’t say if Bobrovsky knows after all these playoff games that he’s the best player on the ice, but one thing is certain — he remains humble through all the glory.


“I’m fortunate to be here and happy to play playoff hockey,” Bobrovsky said after Game 2. “I just want to thank god for the opportunity, for the result.” 


This isn’t the first time Bobrovsky has talked about being ‘fortunate’ or grateful to be in this situation, and if the results continue to be favorable, it probably won’t be the last.


His teammates truly seem to have all the confidence in the world for him. He’s quite literally saved them multiple times this season, whether it was his Game 5 save on Brad Marchand as the Panthers faced elimination or his 63 save, quadruple OT win in Game 1 against the Canes — they know how crucial he is to their success. 


“I think tonight in particular… [Bobrovsky’s game] allowed us to take the time we needed to get going because we knew he was going to hold the fort for us,” Tkachuk explained about Bobrovsky’s play in Game 2.  


“We’re just super lucky to have him as the backbone of the team.”


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Marlins can’t keep stalling on finding a backstop

The Marlins have a catching problem. There’s an issue catching the Fish. The old bait and hook isn’t working. Whichever aquatic metaphor you prefer, the Marlins have an issue behind the plate.

They are currently deploying a rotation duo of Nick Fortes and Jacob Stallings, who are combined for a league worst .438 OPS, which has a league worst .211 SLG. That is, to put it lightly, horrendous. With a .227 OBP, that means that 77.3% of the time, that position is an automatic out. If you’re a competing ballclub, you do not want to have a spot in your lineup that is an automatic out. Let’s take a look at their current duo and see if there’s any in house options.

Let’s take a deeper look at the main culprit behind the catching woes, Jacob Stallings. Stallings, a 33 year old catcher, came over to Miami in a trade in the 2022 offseason, which sent the outfield prospect Connor Scott, the starting pitcher prospect Kyle Nicolas, and the starting pitcher Zack Thompson to the Pittsburg Pirates. Last season, Stallings saw a drastic decline in both his offensive numbers, with his OPS falling from .704 to .584, and his defensive ability. However, his pitch calling stilled seemed above average and was seen as a major reason behind Sandy Alcantara’s Cy Young season. This season, however, his numbers have drastically declined even further, with his OPS hanging around .340, and his OPS+ at -5.

For reference, league average OPS+ is 100, and he is currently holding -5. Even further, Stallings has 2 passed balls and has only caught 1 runner in attempting to steal, with a 5% success rate.  At this point, and with the struggle of the starting rotation, there is 0 reason why the Marlins should continue to employ Jacob Stallings behind the dish.

The other part of the duo is Nick Fortes. Fortes is a 25 year old 2nd year catcher for the Marlins who has also had his fair share of struggles on the offensive side of the ball. Fortes currently is holding a .505 OPS with a 41 OPS+. Fortes, like Stallings, struggles to get runners out on steal attempts, with only a 12% caught stealing rate. But, he does hold 3 DRS, whereas Stallings holds a -1. Fortes has shown flashes of competency and sometimes brilliance, both behind and at the plate. If you’re going to keep one of the current duo, Fortes is the one.

So I’m sure you’re sitting here asking: What next? What can we do to improve the situation?

It’s very rare for a catcher to get traded mid-season, as they have to acclimate to the team and the pitching staff, so that has a minimal chance to occur, although I did point to the Marlins potentially going after Elias Diaz of the Colorado Rockies in my previous article. At this current point, the Marlins have to look in-house for changes, or go full time Nick Fortes behind the dish.

For in-house options, there are two options, but truly, at this point, only one option. That would be Austin Allen, who is housed at Triple-A Jacksonville. Austin Allen doesn’t have a sparkling MLB career at the age of 29, and even his stats in AAA leave some room for improvement, as he has a slash line of .192/279/.475, with 8 home runs. He has had some bad luck hitting, with a .155 BABIP, but you shouldn’t expect much from him if he returns back to the majors.

The other option in house is the most requested catching option, which is from undrafted free agent Paul McIntosh.

Since arriving in the Marlins system in 2021, McIntosh has done nothing but hit the ball. With a career OPS of .882, which holds a .501 SLG, his bat is present and powerful. Pair that with a 19.9 K% and a 14.3 BB%, McIntosh is a welcome and needed offensive addition to the Marlins lineup. The only issues? Paul McIntosh has yet to play above AA-Pensacola, and holds many defensive woes behind the dish. The Marlins have experimented moving McIntosh to the OF and to DH, as they don’t see him fitting defensively at catcher. Wherever he fits, though, his bat would be a much-needed boost to a plateauing Marlins offense.

With all this in mind, it’s obvious the Marlins need to make a change and soon behind the dish. The only questions remains – What will be that change? When will that change happen? What do you guys think the Marlins should do?

Whatever it is, it needs to be something. Soon.

Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Heat take a two-game lead over the Celtics as the series shifts to Miami

Staggeringly, Friday, the team with a one-game lead in the series played with more desperation in the second match. That’s the same outfit that, before the first meeting, was rejected by the sportsbooks as not having a chance against the reigning eastern champs. The Heat is presently up 2-0 with the following games set in Miami.

In quarter one, the Green restrained the White and Red’s paint finishing to four of 13 attempts. Regardless, Jimmy Butler still recorded a putback off Bam Adebayo’s miss, a jumper in the post when the Celtics blew up Miami’s pick and roll, and layup in drop coverage.

After getting gashed by the Celtics on a 17-4 run, the Heat returned the favor with a 16-8 burst to close the half. Caleb Martin was the leading scorer with 14 points, followed by Jimmy Butler’s dozen.

The Heat held a four-point lead at intermission, but the Celtics charged out of its locker room, snatching command. Jayson Tatum detonated for an extra 15 on his scorecard while the Celtics doubled Miami’s production on the glass and held the visitors to 16% shooting from deep.

The dreaded turd quarter had returned, as the Heatles were outscored by 12 in frame three. Butler played every minute, gathering six points with three boards, two assists, a block and a steal. Martin logged seven, and Adebayo dropped 6 points, but the Celtics were at the firing range.

The Celtics entered the lane on impulse and finished seven of nine interior tries in the third quarter. Jaylen Brown supplied three baskets for the Green, hitting shots in the corner, in transition and euro-stepping past Kyle Lowry for a layup.

With over 10 minutes left, the hosts lead by 12, intoxicating its supporters with premature joy. But then, Miami went on a 34-16 point avalanche to seize the game. In crunch time, Butler and Grant Williams had to be separated while standing dome-to-dome. JB took the General (G. Williams) off the dribble from the left wing to the paint and hit a turnaround jumper before both got in each other’s grills.

Butler logged his next three field goals guarded by G. Williams, including the baskets to tie and take the lead for the Heat. From the right side, #22 dribbled past Party City Batman (G. Williams) and nailed a floater over his head. Then he motioned towards his hip, signaling his man was too small. At the elbow, Butler canned a jumper and fadeaway on the baseline before Celtics coach Joe Mazzula sat his backup forward.

With a minute to go and the Heat up three, Adebayo tracked Butler’s missed jumper in between multiple Celtics and went back up for a thunderous slam. Tatum came back the other way, hoisting up a shot from the top when Miami flashed its 2-3 zone. Gabe Vincent foolishly didn’t give him landing space. Next, Tatum converted three freebies.

Making amends for his infraction, Vincent dusted Tatum on the left side, burying a jump shot from 20 feet out.

In the last period, Miami held Boston to 38.9% shooting from the field. The Heat pulled down four offensive rebounds and committed two fewer turnovers, allowing it to take four additional attempts over the Celtics in the final quarter in a game that was decided by six points.

Mazzulla forgot to use his final timeout for Boston so it could advance the ball upcourt in the last five seconds. The Heat won 111-105.

On Boston’s bench, players wore warm-up shirts that said “Unfinished Business” on the front, referencing the squad getting two games shy of a title the previous season. The Green’s mission is likely staying that way after conceding home-court advantage.

The flight to Miami is a perfect opportunity for the Celtics to educate G. Williams about not upsetting the Beast of the East. Butler engaged because he caught some trash talk while Miami was coming up court with the ball.

At the postgame presser, coach Erik Spoelstra praised his group’s perseverance.

“Defensively, in the second quarter, we were really good to get back into the game,” Spoelstra said. “Same thing in the second half. And then Jimmy [Butler] and Bam [Adebayo] really anchored us offensively. It’s great when your two best players can lead you, and you have a place where the ball can go, and everyone else is playing off those guys…”

Butler said the fourth quarter is about getting buckets.

“It’s all about getting shots on goal,” Butler said. “I can only tell y’all so many times how much confidence that my teammates put in me, the coaching staff puts in me to just go out there and hoop, play carefree, and as we like to say in our locker room ‘take us there.’”

For all your Heat/Panthers daily fantasy plays, use the code “five” at and your initial deposit is matched up to $100.














Matthew Tkachuk scored the winning goal for the Panthers in the fourth overtime against Carolina.

Pressure Point: Panthers, Heat have S. Florida soaring on remarkable playoff ride

Most of the time watching sports is a grind, often more heartbreak than happiness.

Right now for fans in South Florida, it’s an absolute gift.

The reward for sitting through nearly 140 minutes of Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference finals was seeing a Florida Panthers victory rat tossed on the ice in Raleigh, N.C., at 2 a.m.

Matthew Tkachuk’s goal ending the sixth-longest Stanley Cup playoff game came 12.7 seconds before the end of the fourth overtime early Friday morning.

The Panthers’ win against the favored Carolina Hurricanes came on the heels of the Miami Heat shocking the highly favored Celtics in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern finals the previous night in Boston.

The Heat followed suit Friday night with a 111-105 comeback win, sweeping the first two games of the series at Boston’s TD Garden, the same building where the Panthers eliminated the record-breaking Bruins in the first round of this amazing playoff journey.

Panthers, Heat fans seeing double — in good way

It’s a challenge for fans to keep up with two teams playing like destiny’s children at the same time and you can’t help but hitch a ride for as long as it goes. That means nightly dinners in front of the TV and abbreviated sleep, hopefully continuing for awhile.

But hopefully not another marathon ice dance like had the Panthers and Hurricanes in a standoff that seemed as if it might last until dawn or the ice melted.

Four overtimes was an excess of hockey even for Mr. Hockey, Wayne Gretzky. The Great One, on the TNT studio panel, remarked before the fourth overtime that he hoped someone would score in that period because “enough is enough.”

Tkachuk scores goal for ages

Tkachuk obliged just before the end of that fourth 20-minute extra session with a quick snipe from the right circle.

It took a moment to register that the Panthers had finally penetrated the Great Red Wall of Carolina, goalie Frederik Andersen.

“Probably my favorite [goal] I’ve scored in my life,” said Tkachuk, who has more than met expectations from the trade that brought him to Florida from Calgary for Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar.

GM Bill Zito swung the deal as part of a plan to transform the Panthers from a freewheeling offensive team into one that could play the tighter, grind-it-out style needed to succeed in the playoffs.

The transition took half the season to gain traction under coach Paul Maurice and allay doubts, but Ka-Chuckie and Co. have revived the Spirit of ’96 in South Florida, when the lovable third-year expansion Panthers took the region on an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals. That ended in a triple-overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

Panthers believe in ‘Bob’

This Panthers team has the talent and an upwelling of confidence that just might finish the job this time.

Since falling behind Boston 3 games to 1 in the first round, the Panthers have won eight of nine. Five of those wins have come in overtime. They have won seven away games in a row.

It took till tomorrow to score the winning goal in Game 1, but the Panthers put priority on making sure they didn’t give one up.

Veteran goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who started the playoffs backing up journeyman Alex Lyon, is finally playing up to his $70 million contract. He set a franchise record with 63 saves — including all 34 he faced in overtime — and didn’t allow a goal for the final 97 minutes of Game 1.

The Panthers believe in ‘Bob’ like never before, and he’s earned it while going 8-1 since an overtime win over the Bruins in Game 5 of the first round.

Heat inspired by Panthers’ win

While the Panthers rest up for Game 2 on Saturday, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo led the Heat back from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter, combining for 17 points down the stretch that also saw key contributions from Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and others. Caleb Martin kept the Heat in the game with 25 points off the bench.

Friday morning, veteran forward Udonis Haslem told reporters at the Heat’s shootaround that he stayed up for the entire hockey game and was inspired by the Panthers’ dramatic win.

“Those boys got heart,” he said. “I loved the look on the fans’ faces after the game, too. That was amazing.”

Had to feel for the dejected Hurricanes fans who still had a traffic jam and a drive home ahead of them before an early wake-up call. Panthers fans had the most uplifting winning afterglow to carry them through work on Friday.

Tkachuk expressed that he feels kinship with the Heat’s Butler, who wore the Panthers star’s jersey at practice Thursday and plays a similar emotional style.

The impulse is to say that South Florida has never seen the likes of two teams simultaneously playing in the semifinals of their sport. Yet it was only about six weeks ago that the Miami Hurricanes and FAU Owls both made it to the college basketball Final Four.

The rarity of what the Panthers and Heat are doing is heightened by both barely making the playoffs as No. 8 seeds and beginning by knocking off the top teams of the regular season.

Both remain underdogs in their respective Eastern finals — incredibly, the Celtics are favored in Game 3 in Miami despite their 2-0 deficit in the series — but neither believe it.

Best time to be South Florida sports fan

If winning is contagious, it has caught on with multiple teams in South Florida like never before. Even the under-the-radar Marlins are second in the National League East and just got the first major league win from 20-year-old pitching phenom Eury Perez.

The Miami Dolphins have amassed a roster of talent to raise expectations for the fall. The football Hurricanes appear on the rise as well.

But right now, the Panthers and Heat are the gift that keeps on giving.

Get ready for more late nights at the local arenas or in front of the TV. This could take awhile.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Heat take Game 1 from the Celtics in Boston

The Celtics couldn’t stop Jimmy Butler from maneuvering left. In the first quarter, he logged a dozen points, unbothered by his matchup, with two dimes, two rebounds and two steals.

In the first quarter, the Heat converted 52.4% of its attempts and half from deep. Yet, the visitor’s issue throughout the first half offensively was ball security. Three poor passes and an illegal pick resulted in four turnovers to Boston’s three.

The Celtics also picked up five offensive rebounds in the opening frame. This resulted in the hosts taking six more shots to start, but they only had a two-point lead to show for it.

Kyle Lowry kicked off the second quarter by attacking Robert Williams III in drop coverage. He logged every minute of the interval and made five straight buckets off the dribble or in a stationary position on the wing.

Without Lowry’s contributions before halftime, Miami would have been toast. He was the only Heatle to register more than one field goal in the second quarter while the defense reacted slowly to rim pressure. In a six-minute stretch, the Celtics went on a 25-10 run that included eight paint finishes without a miss.

Jayson Tatum repped the hosts with 18 points on 53.8% shooting with five rebounds in the first half. His partner Jaylen Brown had 11 coming from putbacks, transition attacks, two floaters and a cutting layup through the middle. Williams, too, was problematic for Miami, hitting five shots off putbacks and rim runs.

The Heat was down 57-66 at halftime. The White and Red made 53.7% of its tries, but the Green had taken five more shots from the field and six extra at the charity line.

In the third quarter, the Heat stormed back into the match, outscoring the Celtics 46-25. Five consecutive baskets by Max Strus, Kevin Love, Gabe Vincent and Adebayo ignited the group and cut its deficit to a point after being down 12 a minute into the frame.

Butler logged another dozen points, plus a steal. He took three trips to the line, making all five freebies, nailing buckets on the baseline and in the corner.

Strus led for the Heat with 13 on his scorecard for quarter three. Mad Max splashed two pull-up triples on the wings and one catch-and-release banger in the corner.

Miami entered the fourth quarter up 12 points, but the offense cooling down allowed Boston to get within four.

Tatum didn’t register a field goal attempt for the Celtics in the fourth, but he was fouled on three drives and scored six points at the line. Brown punctured the lane three times, taking advantage of Miami’s willingness to switch. Brown’s only misses late were behind the arc.

Yet the Heat had Butler. With over six minutes left, #22 stripped Brown and picked up two interceptions in the passing lanes, bringing his total to six takeaways. Shockingly, Al Horford tried a cross-court pass from corner to wing that Butler stole. Unsurprisingly, Tatum’s tunnel vision blinded him from seeing Butler camped out at the elbow as a spy, waiting for the dish to Brown.

In crunch time, Butler isolated White on the right wing and darted into the paint for a turnaround jumper. Next, he targeted Malcolm Brogdon on a switch and dribbled down to the baseline for a 13-footer. His last basket was a right-wing triple contested by Brogdon that briefly extended the Heat’s lead to 10 points with a minute left.

The Heat won Game 1 123-116.

At the postgame presser, coach Erik Spoelstra said there wasn’t much said at halftime regarding the nine-point deficit.

“Our guys knew,” Spoelstra said. “Playing against a very good basketball team in the first half, we had 11 turnovers, and they had 40 in the paint. I can’t say that’s just all us. That’s what they are capable of doing if we are not really on top of our game… We’ve been in a lot of these situations where we have to battle back from deficits even on the road. So, we started to chip away at it and finally got the lead and were able to take control from there.”

When Butler was asked about taking away home-court advantage from the Celtics, he said, “We are just playing really good basketball. More than anything, we are staying together through the good and through the bad. It is a game of runs, and we can talk to one another. I think that’s what ultimately makes me smile is the fact that when things aren’t going our way, we can look at each other eye-to-eye and know when somebody is messing around. And we can fix it…”

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