NHL: Panthers cap sweep of Hurricanes with last-minute goal

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Matthew Tkachuk is taking his flair for the dramatic to the Stanley Cup Final — and bringing the Florida Panthers with him.

Tkachuk’s second goal of the game with 4.9 seconds remaining in regulation was the difference in Florida’s 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday in Sunrise, Fla., capping a four-game sweep of the Eastern Conference finals.

The Panthers had never previously swept a postseason series.

Tkachuk scored three winning goals in the best-of-seven set, the others coming in the fourth overtime in Game 1 and the first OT in Game 2.

“We are lucky to have Chucky on our side,” Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said on the TNT broadcast. “He’s been great for us all season long and the whole playoffs. He knows how to score big goals.”

None was bigger than Tkachuk’s difference-maker that gives Florida a chance to claim its first Stanley Cup title. The Panthers made their only other trip to the finals in 1996, when they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche.

With overtime looming and his team on the power play, Tkachuk calmly took the puck to the front of the net and tallied his ninth goal of the playoffs to cap the series.

The goal ties the NHL record for the latest series-winning goal in regulation. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Nick Metz eliminated the New York Rangers with five seconds left in Game 6 of a Stanley Cup semifinals series in 1942.

That trip to the record books is secondary to earning a chance to win a championship.

“We know this opportunity doesn’t come all the time, and the guys are so motivated to make this count,” Tkachuk said. “That’s so exciting.”

The Panthers will face the victor of the Western Conference finals between the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars in the finals. Vegas leads Dallas three games to none.

Anthony Duclair and Ryan Lomberg also scored for the Panthers, who claimed the final wild-card berth to reach the playoffs. Bobrovsky made 36 saves and captain Aleksander Barkov netted two assists.

Paul Stastny, Teuvo Teravainen and Jesper Fast scored for the Hurricanes, who have been swept in their past three trips to the Eastern Conference finals. Brady Skjei and Jordan Martinook collected a pair of assists apiece, and goalie Frederik Andersen stopped 20 shots while his team twice erased deficits.

Duclair scored 41 seconds into the game and Tkachuk netted a power-play goal midway through the first period to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead, but Stastny scored a couple of minutes later and Teravainen tied the game early in the second period.

Lomberg put Florida up 3-2 midway through the second period, but Fast scored with 3:22 remaining in regulation, which set up Tkachuk’s heroics.

All four games were one-goal losses in which Carolina held a decided edge in shots.

“That’s the unfortunate part of this, (people are) going to look back and everyone’s going to say you got swept. That’s not what happened,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “It could have been four games the other way.”

Both sides lost players due to in-game injuries. Florida forward Eetu Luostarinen left the game in the second period after blocking a shot with his leg.

Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin was on the receiving end of a clean hit from Sam Bennett and appeared to hit his head on the ice as he fell backward. The team said he sustained an upper-body injury.

Hurricanes forward Stefan Noesen also left the clash due to an upper-body injury sustained in the first period. He briefly played in the second period but didn’t skate in the final frame.

–Field Level Media

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