SUNRISE, Fla. — Matthew Tkachuk scored a power-play goal with 4.9 seconds left, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 36 shots to cap off a brilliant series, and the Florida Panthers earned their first trip to the Stanley Cup final in 27 years by beating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 on Wednesday night to win the Eastern Conference title in a sweep.
Tkachuk’s goal was his second of the night — and maybe the biggest in Panthers’ history. The Panthers will play either Vegas or Dallas for the Stanley Cup starting sometime next week; Vegas currently leads the Western Conference finals series 3-0.
The Panthers scored 10 goals in the series, and Bobrovsky ensured those were all they needed. Four games, four one-goal wins, three of them coming from Tkachuk in dramatic fashion — two in overtime to end Games 1 and 2, and then this one to cap Florida’s stunning rise from No. 8 seed to East champions.
Ryan Lomberg and Anthony Duclair had the other goals for Florida, which swept a series for the first time in franchise history.
Jordan Staal — whose brothers Eric and Marc play for the Panthers — took a tripping penalty with 57 seconds left in regulation, setting up the power play that Tkachuk finished off.
Jesper Fast seemed like he might have saved the season for Carolina, getting a tying goal with 3:22 left in regulation. Paul Stastny and Teuvo Teravainen had the first two goals of the night for the Hurricanes, while Brady Skjei and Jordan Martinook each had two assists.
But the night — the series, too — belonged to the Panthers. They were swept by Colorado in the 1996 final.
The tone was set early. Duclair scored 41 seconds into the contest, and not even a minute later, Florida’s Sam Bennett delivered a hard hit — but clean, in the sense that it drew no penalty — to Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin behind the Hurricanes’ net.
Towels waved, strobe lights flashed, and the fans wasted no time letting the Panthers know that they were ready for a clincher.
Tkachuk made it 2-0 on the power play midway through the first. Carolina — a 113-point, division-championship-winning team in the regular season — made it 2-1 later in the first on Stastny’s goal, and Teravainen tied it early in the second.
Lomberg’s goal midway through the second gave Florida the lead again. It stayed that way until Fast got the equalizer with 3:22 left, and Tkachuk finished it off — getting the Panthers to the title round in his first season.
Around the rink
Panthers general manager Bill Zito was announced earlier Wednesday as a finalist for NHL GM of the year. ... Tkachuk’s two goals gave him 21 points in the playoffs — extending his Florida single-season postseason record, which was 17 by Dave Lowry in 1996. ... Slavin was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game after Bennett’s hit, with what the Hurricanes said was “an upper-body injury.” Slavin wobbled as he tried to get to his feet. ... Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel — who has also been a regular at Miami Heat games during their playoff run this spring — banged the drum before the game. When done, without a mic to drop, he simply dropped the mallet instead.
Tkachuk’s goal midway through the opening period put Florida up 2-0 — and marked the first time, in nearly 14 periods of play to that point, that a team had a two-goal lead in this series. Every bit of action came with the score tied or one of the teams up by one in the first 272 minutes (including all the overtimes) of the series.