As we approach Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, it is clear that the Florida Panthers’ best chance to get this series even would be to get some production out of Matthew Tkachuk, who has stamped himself the unquestioned leader in his first season with the club, by virtue of his play. Tkachuk had 40 goals and 69 assists this season, and though he probably won’t win the Hart Trophy, he is a finalist, and that’s quite an honor in itself.
But BetOnline customers know that if there is a considerable difference between the Panthers and Golden Knights, it’s in the depth of the two teams on the attack. Vegas has that lines have been outstanding, and they have more centers than they know what to do with. Florida is generally not known to have as many scoring options.
So Tkachuk has to be a real factor almost every time out. In Saturday’s Game 1, he only got off two shots on goal, and no points, although we do admit that his artful feed to Nick Cousins, who saw an empty net, should have resulted in a goal (it did not, as Adin Hill made a gorgeous “paddle save”). He also committed a turnover deep in his own end that led to a Vegas goal. Oh, and he had to leave in the latter stages of the game because of a ten-minute misconduct.
So it wasn’t “magical” for the Scottsdale, AZ native.
And this is when you start hearing about how he shouldn’t have been basking in the glory of all this, hanging out with celebrities, while the Panthers were waiting for the Dallas-Vegas series to end.
At the moment, Tkachuk is the fourth choice to win Conn Smythe honors at +450. But coming up empty won’t help him that much, even though he had those two overtime goals against Carolina and, of course, the winner in the clinching fourth game, which somehow made him the most popular player at some of the best NHL betting sites.
For Game 2 (8 PM ET on Monday), the Panthers are still getting some respect from the BetOnline oddsmakers:
Vegas Golden Knights -131
Florida Panthers +119
Over 5.5 Goals -121
Under 5.5 Goals +101
There’s one thing we have been able to count on from the Panthers, who had to win on the last day of the season just to get into the playoffs as an 8-seed; it’s that they are mentally tough. BRUTALLY mentally tough. Don’t kid yourself – when you come back from being down three games to one against the team that set the NHL record for wins, and you sweep the next three to win the series, there isn’t any situation that is going to intimidate you and make you feel down about yourselves.
On top of that, they had won all seven times they had taken the ice in enemy territory during this playoff run.
In other words, we don’t think coach Paul Maurice will have difficulty rallying his troops.
What he’s going to have to do is convince his team that they can go out there and defend Vegas without committing penalties. No team will put itself in a great position when they give the other team seven power plays in a game (giving up two goals in the process).
Florida gave the opposition 291 power plays during the regular season (third most in the NHL) and killed off slightly less than 76% of them, which ranks 23rd. And that is not normally a formula for victory.
So maybe the Panthers should count themselves lucky that they have gotten superior goaltending in the postseason. When will they run out of luck?
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