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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