Keith Tkachuk’s words came at just the right time for Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. — Keith Tkachuk has never played a game for the Florida Panthers, and hasn’t recorded an assist in 13 years at the NHL level.

That is, until March 29, when Florida’s season may have its biggest helper.

On a Toronto radio station that morning, Tkachuk — the father of hockey legend and Florida star Matthew Tkachuk — was linked to turning the season around like the Panthers. Hours later, the Panthers beat the Maple Leafs to begin a push that would put them in the playoffs and eventually make a run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

“It’s still too late,” says Matthew Tkachuk, explaining why he’s worried his father won’t do more interviews.

doesn’t matter. The words will live on, and I will not offend the Panthers. They advance to the title round next week, with Game 1 either in Vegas or Dallas.

“We’re here because of him,” Panthers captain Alexander Barkov said.

Barkov wasn’t kidding. There were countless reasons for Florida’s improbable postseason run — an impenetrable defense led by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, figuring out how to erase a 3-1 deficit in the first round against favored Boston, needing just nine games to knock off Toronto and Carolina — but March 29 certainly featured some of the season’s greatest. Presented times.

Florida Panthers left wing Matthew Takchuk (19) reacts after scoring the game-winning goal against the Carolina Hurricanes in the waning seconds of Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals, Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at Sunrise. , Fla. Credit: AP/Lyn Sladky

Matthew Tkachuk starred in the playoffs with a flair for drama; Nine goals, 12 assists, 21 points, two overtime game-winners against Carolina and the Eastern Conference finalists against the Hurricanes with 4.9 seconds left.

That said, his dad sure looks like a flash.

“I’m a little disappointed in the Panthers,” Keith Chachuk said in an interview with TSN 1050.

It didn’t stop there. Keith Tkachuk questions how hard the Panthers are playing.

Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) celebrates a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs with defenseman Gustav Forsling (42), forward Anton Lundel (15) and forward Matthew Tkachuk (19) during the first period of Game 5 of NHL hockey’s Stanley Cup. Second round playoff series Friday, May 12, 2023 in Toronto. Credit: AP/Chris Young

“It’s up to them to start playing as a team that needs to be a lot better than what they’re showing now,” he said.

When he spoke, the Panthers faced long odds to make the postseason. They have lost four straight. They were leading the Maple Leafs 2-1 late that night, knowing that defeat could be the beginning of the inevitable end. And that was a night when Panthers coach Paul Morris had seen enough of his team’s viral second-period bench rumble. The words weren’t exactly radio-friendly.

It all worked out eventually, and just in time. Sam Reinhart scored with a minute left in the game and Brandon Montour scored in overtime to give Florida a 3-2 win. Since that night, the Panthers have won 18 of their last 24 games, including 10 in comeback fashion, seven of which have come in overtime.

No one calls them soft now.

“The ride was unreal,” said Matthew Tkachuk. “It’s not like there’s anything changing with our team. … I mean, I’m surrounded by a lot of great players who make it really, really easy for me. And I feel very lucky. Being here, being with this team, since I got here in July, it’s been unbelievable.

Keith Tkachuk played 18 NHL seasons, finishing his career with 538 goals and 527 assists in the regular season, followed by another 28 goals and 28 assists in 89 playoff games.

But he didn’t make the Stanley Cup Finals. So, here’s some irony: He couldn’t get Winnipeg, Phoenix, St. Louis or Atlanta there — but the words played a role in Florida getting there for just the second time in franchise history, the other coming 27 years ago.

Matthew Tkachuk wasn’t even alive then. And now he’s won four in the title, mostly thanks to his three game-winners against the Hurricanes.

“He’s a gifted, gifted person,” Morris said.

More than ten years after he stopped skating, his father still has a knack for big moments.


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