- Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.
LAS VEGAS — Down 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final, Florida Panthers star forward Matthew Tkachuk hasn’t lost his confidence. Instead, he’s doubling down.
“(The Vegas Golden Knights) are halfway there and hopefully they’re thinking about that a little bit when they’re coming back to Florida,” Tkachuk said following his team’s 7-2 loss in Game 2 on Monday night.
While the eighth-seeded Panthers, who qualified for the postseason by just one point, lost consecutive road games for the first time since March, Tkachuk pointed out that Vegas has “run the table at home” for most of the playoffs.
And despite the score in Game 2, Tkachuk never believed his team was out of it.
“They might have thought that game was a little bit out of reach maybe in the second period,” Tkachuk said. “But we certainly didn’t. We’ve scored seven goals in a period before. You never know in the playoffs.”
It was an eventful night for Tkachuk, who got into a scuffle with Vegas goalie Adin Hill in the first period and didn’t let up from there. In the second period, Tkachuk delivered a crushing open ice hit on forward Jack Eichel that sent the Vegas star directly to the dressing room.
“I just came off the bench and saw him in the middle of the ice with his head down. It doesn’t matter who you are, you shouldn’t be going through the middle with your head down, you’re going to get hit,” Tkachuk said. “I would go get hit too if I had my head down in the middle. It’s not a big deal. He’s a really good player. Really good players can get hit, too.”
Eichel agreed the hit — which was not penalized — was clean, telling reporters that he put some of the blame on himself, as he “toe picked a little bit and saw him at the last minute.”
Eichel returned to the game for the third period and notched an assist on his first shift back.
That said, the hit was an inflection point for tempers on both sides. A massive scrum ensued, which led to Tkachuk and Golden Knights forward Ivan Barbashev each receiving a 10-minute game misconduct penalty.
For his role in the mayhem, Tkachuk was incredulous.
“I was surprised. I went to the bench thinking I’d get some rest before the power play,” he said. “Then I was sent off for it.”
Tkachuk also received a 10-minute misconduct late in the third period — his third such of the series after also being sent off for the end of Game 1.
It’s been a penalty-filled series through two games. The Panthers have a total of 130 penalty minutes and the Golden Knights have 72.
“I just don’t think there are teams that are as physical as we are,” Tkachuk said. “So maybe you guys (in the media) think it’s too much, but at the end of the day it’s just how we played. If we were playing physical and we were up in the game, you guys would say that’s the recipe for success.”
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