2023 NHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference Final – Panthers sweep series, end Hurricanes season

Matthew Tkachuk scored the game-winner to beat Carolina 4-3 and gave Florida a sweep of the best-of-7 series

National Hockey League, NHL.com

Peter Koutroumpis (@pksport)


RALEIGH, NC – The Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup run is over.

A 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena on Wednesday gave the Panthers a four-game sweep of  the two teams’ 2023 NHL Eastern Conference Final best-of-seven series.

It signaled the end of the season coming much earlier than desired, or expected by head coach Rod Brind’Amour and his team.

Who, what, and when

Matthew Tkachuk’s goal with 4.9 seconds remaining in regulation finalized any hope or possibility to extend the series any longer.

Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky once again made many key saves with a 36-save performance, even while being exposed for more goals against than in the previous three games.

Frederik Andersen made 20 saves in a solid effort in the Carolina net.

Tkachuk led all scorers with two goals, while Anthony Duclair and Ryan Lomberg tallied singles for Florida.

For the Hurricanes, a three-goal output from Paul Stastny, Teuvo Teravainen, and Jesper Fast fueled the final-seconds offensive push.

Once again however, a one-goal margin was the difference, and it was another one that didn’t fall to the Canes’ favor.

Despite not making it past the Conference Final for the second time in the past five postseasons, there was no reason to hang heads low according to the coach.

“I felt great about the game, other than the start – the way we started coming on,” Rod Brind’Amour said.

“It felt like all the other games, to be honest with you. Just really proud of the group and how hard they worked. Deserved a better fate though to be quite honest. Guys went down, we’re losin’ our best players. We just kept playin’. From the seat I had, it was a pretty good game…pretty impressive effort.”

Reeling backwards early

It wasn’t the start that Brind’Amour had intended his squad to have, not with the mindset of winning a game and continuing the series with a Game 5 in Raleigh.

Duclair’s third goal of the postseason, just 41 seconds in from the opening puck drop, put Carolina back one.

With injuries to forward Stefan Noesen and defenseman Jaccob Slavin soon following, the task at hand increased in complexity and enormity just barely past the five-minute mark.

Slavin’s injury was the result of a tremendous collision behind the Hurricanes net, in what appeared to be a full-on frontal body check from Florida’s Sam Bennett.

Upon closer viewing of the play, the hit included helmet-to-helmet contact at a speed that sent Slavin airborne backwards, into the end boards and onto the ice.

With his stick flying out of his hands while hitting the ice surface flat on his back, Slavin quickly attempted to get up and get his skates under him, but was visibly impacted, wobbling, and needed help to get up.

He eventually skated off the ice with the assistance of trainer Doug Bennett, and didn’t return to the game.

It’s you, not him

The Hurricanes then had to deal with an early penalty-kill situation.

While there was no penalty to Bennett called as a result of Slavin’s injury, defenseman Brent Burns was called for slashing at some point during the sequence of play.

So with the bench missing a second key player, Carolina soon picked up its pace following a rough opening 10 minutes.

“All year we’ve had injuries to key players,” Brind’Amour pointed out.

“It’s tough to get this far without your top players. The fact that we’ve done that without the top two players – one we’ve missed all year and then we missed Svech – to do it and out-chance teams for four games without those guys and then Slavin – to continue to forge ahead…that’s why I say I’m super proud of this group. I can’t ask for a better group and more out of it than what we got.”

Empty the tank

Trailing 2-0 following Tkachuk’s first goal of the game at the 10:23 mark, Stastny’s cleanup of a rebound in Bobrovsky’s crease cut the margin to one by the first intermission.

Teravainen’s first goal of the playoffs evened the score 2-2 early in the second and Carolina continued to apply pressure with tenacious puck possession and winning board battles in the Florida zone.

Even while outshooting the Panthers 17-9 during the frame, Lomberg managed to get the puck past Andersen and Florida led by one again.

Starting the third with 3-2 deficit to make up, the Canes continued their relentless efforts to pull even.

They had orchestrated impressive comeback wins throughout the season, so the probability of finally seeing it happen during this series was good.

The fruits of their labor paid off when Fast chipped the puck over Bobrovsky and tied it all up again, 3-3, with 3:22 remaining in regulation.

And just like that

The thought of overtime, was understandably valid as the clock counted down.

However, that all changed when captain Jordan Staal was called for tripping at 19:03.

The penalty call was the precursor to the eventual game-winner that Tkachuk tallied with seconds remaining.

It was a final gut put punch that Carolina endured to end the season – another abrupt finish that gave Florida the 4-3 win, the series, and the Prince of Wales Trophy as conference champions.

“That’s been the way we’ve been all year. These four games – tough way to end it, like that, you know. For sure. Proud of what we’ve built here and the guys that we have,” Brind’Amour concluded.

“That’s the unfortunate part. You’re going to look back and everyone’s going to say you got swept. That’s not what happened. I watched the games. I’m there; we’re in the game. We didn’t lose four games – we got beat – but you know…we were right there. This could’ve went the other way, it could’ve went four games the other way.

“The way it ended tonight, it’s tough – getting a penalty like that. Especially with what was let go. That’s gonna sting. Not taking away anything from the other team; they played hard. I think we took a few steps this year. Coming this far with what we were missing…pretty impressive.”

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