Tkachuk Just Fine Working Overtime
Late July is typically not the time for the NHL to be in the news. That all changed when the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers engaged in a trade to end all trades and one that made not just NHL news but national news.
Calgary shipped its leading scorer, Matthew Tkachuk to Florida, in exchange for the Panthers’ top point producer, Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar,
Both teams were dealing with disappointing second-round exits in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs after winning division titles. The NHL predictions had both teams advancing a little further than that.
Ten months later, the Florida Panthers are defying NHL picks in a different way as they are in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1996 while the Calgary Flames missed the playoffs by two points.
Tkachuk has not just helped Florida rip through the Eastern Conference field, he has been a force of nature and is now one of leading candidates in the Conn Smythe Trophy, according to the NHL betting lines.
Saving his Best For Last
With four 20-goal seasons during his six years in Calgary, Tkachuk is no stranger to scoring big goals. However, he has taken things to new heights in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
Tkachuk has nine goals in 16 playoff games and that is a pace that would have resulted in a 46-goal campaign in a full 82-game schedule during the regular season.
Three of those goals came in overtime and another with less than five seconds left in the third period of a series-clinching win.
WHO ELSE BUT MATTHEW TKACHUK pic.twitter.com/UgD1K9I7mf
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) May 25, 2023
In the surprising sweep of the Metropolitan Division champion Carolina Hurricanes, Tkachuk had a run of clutch play that will forever etch his name into Florida sports folklore.
It started when he ended the sixth-longest game in NHL history with a goal in the fourth overtime of Game 1. Tkachuk scored on the power play early in overtime in Game 2. In Game 3, Tkachuk had the primary assist on Sam Reinhart’s power-play goal midway through the second period in a 1-0 Florida victory. Then, with time running out in the third period, Tkachuk broke a 3-3 tie to send Florida to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since the year before he was born.
More Than Just a Scorer
Tkachuk had at least 40 goals in his final season with the Flames and first campaign with Florida. It would be a mistake to just think of Tkachuk for his scoring prowess.
Only two forwards in this year’s playoffs have more hits than the 52 registered by Tkachuk.
He has the type of physical, in-your-face type of game that is invaluable at this time of the year.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Tkachuk had a career-high 123 penalty minutes during the regular season, and he has been carrying that style of play into the postseason.
Florida wanted to be harder to play against after being swept out of the playoffs in the second round by division rival Tampa Bay last year. Adding Tkachuk was certainly one major step in that direction.
Why Make This Deal?
Tkachuk had 42 goals and 104 points as a 24-year-old so why would Calgary put him on the trading block?
Tkachuk was a restricted free agent and there were some salary cap issues for the Flames.
A couple of weeks before Tkachuk became a Florida Panther, Calgary winger Johnny Gaudreau signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Calgary fans had to be reeling when news of the Tkachuk trade hit as the top two scorers from a 50-win team were out the door.
Huberdeau had career highs with 85 assists and 115 points for the Panthers during the 2021-22 season. He won’t ever challenge a player like Tkachuk in the hitting department and his style of play clashed with Calgary head coach Darryl Sutter.
Huberdeau had just 40 assists and 55 points in 79 games with the Flames while Weegar added four goals and 27 assists.
Sutter was fired after the 2022-23 season as the franchise was on the verge of a player revolt. Calgary is now facing an uncertain short-term future while the Panthers are four wins away from winning the Stanley Cup.
History In the Making
The list of American-born players to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a short one.
New York Rangers defenseman Bryan Leetch was the first to accomplish the feat in 1994. Goalies Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings became the second and third players on that distinguished list in 2011 and 2012.
Tim Thomas’ 2011 Postseason Stats:
• 16 wins
• 1.98 GAA
• .940 SV%
• 4 shutouts
• Conn Smythe Trophy Winner
2011 Stanley Cup Champion 🏆 pic.twitter.com/aKz1Sj2xPH
— NBC Sports Hockey (@NBCSportsHockey) June 11, 2020
Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane made it three straight American-born Conn Smythe winners in 2013.
According to the NHL odds, Tkachuk (+300) trails only Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (+225) in the Conn Smythe Trophy odds.
With 21 points, Tkachuk has some work to do to break the playoff record for points by an American-born player. Leetch had 34 in 23 games during the 1994 playoff run. As for forwards, Kevin Stevens of the Pittsburgh Penguins had 33 points (17 goals, 16 assists in 24 games) in the 1991 playoffs.
Tkachuk has already tied the NHL record for overtime goals in one playoff year.
Mel Hill was the first to light the lamp three times in overtime during the 1939 playoffs with the Boston Bruins. In 1951. Maurice Richard of the Montreal Canadiens joined Hill and now Tkachuk is part of that select group.
After eliminating a Boston Bruins team that set NHL records for wins and points during the regular season, taking out Toronto in five games and then sweeping Carolina, Florida is waiting to see which team it will face in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Dallas Stars avoided a four-game sweep at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday thanks to Joe Pavelski’s overtime goal.
Vegas still leads the series 3-1 and will look to seal the deal at home on Saturday in Game 5. The Golden Knights are priced at -135 according to the sportsbook to win Game 5 and secure the franchise’s second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.