SUNRISE, Fla. – There is no question that Matthew Tkachuk has been the most productive and clutch player for the Florida Panthers during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He leads the team with 10 goals and 12 assists and is tied for the league-lead with four game-winning goals.
Three of those game winners came during the conference final against Carolina, and all were of the sudden death variety (two were in overtime and one was with 4.9 seconds to go).
It’s been a tougher go for Tkachuk during the Stanley Cup Final.
While he does have a goal, it came late in Game 2 when Florida was down 6-1.
Speaking before Game 3, Tkachuk said one area he wants to be better is an area he normally thrives: around the net.
“I’d say I’ve got to try to have the puck more,” he said. “I have to put more pucks to the net, shoot more and be around it. I know normally when you’re around the net, good things happen.”
The Vegas Golden Knights boast one of the biggest back lines in the NHL. Their defensemen are massive.
Large players in a small area, say, below and between the circles, can make it very difficult for a player like Tkachuk to operate.
“Their D do a good job of protecting the front of the net, but I think there’s more room around it because they’re so close to it,” he said. “So find those holes.”
Ultimately, Tkachuk knows that Thursday’s Game 3 is a must-win.
You can count the number of teams to come back from an 0-3 hole on one hand…and have a finger to spare.
“And the end of the day, this series is where it’s at right now because we didn’t necessarily have the best two games to start over there,” said Tkachuk. “Coming back home, I think it’s a breath of fresh air for every one of us to take care of home ice like we have all playoffs and make this a series, but you can’t make it a series unless you win this game, so all we’re focused on is winning one game.”