Panthers’ Matthew Tkachuk is First Round MVP

The Florida Panthers have pulled off arguably the greatest upset in NHL history Sunday night. The curse of the Presidents’ Trophy strikes again as they took down the record-breaking top seed in the Boston Bruins in seven games. With that, the Panthers have advanced to the second round in consecutive seasons for the first time in their history.

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For the hero of the series, it’s very hard to narrow it down to just one player. An argument could be made for Brandon Montour for setting the franchise record for most playoff points by a defense in the series, as well as scoring the game-tying goal in Game 7. But he took some costly penalties all series long that nearly did them in with 23 total penalty minutes. With that in mind, the MVP of this series should be Matthew Tkachuk due to the tenacity he brought to the lineup in all seven games of the series.

Tkachuk is a Playoff Warrior

Tkachuk was seen as a potential playoff bust considering he only had 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 27 playoff appearances with the Calgary Flames throughout six seasons. This playoff series immediately puts that narrative to rest, as he was an absolute unit against the Bruins. Through seven games, he scored five goals and assisted on six others.

Matthew Tkachuk Florida Panthers Linus Ullmark Boston Bruins
Matthew Tkachuk of the Florida Panthers scores the game-winning goal on Linus Ullmark of the Boston Bruins during overtime in Game 5 of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

This includes the game-winning overtime goal in Game 5 and an assist in the series-clinching goal by Carter Verhaeghe in Game 7. As a result, he leads the team in playoff points. Additionally, it makes for second in Panthers history for the most points in a single playoff series.

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This playoff performance comes off of his career-best regular season with 109 points (40 goals, 69 assists) through 79 games. The blockbuster trade that general manager Bill Zito made this offseason is paying massive dividends for the squad.

Tkachuk Pulled a Mark Messier in Game 5

After winning Game 5 in overtime by a score of 4-3, Tkachuk was given the puck as the game MVP to place into the win rack. Just before he did, he performed his best Mark Messier impersonation and predicted the future.

“Boys! Remember this room, we’ll be back here for seven.”

Matthew Tkachuk in the locker room after a Game 5 victory against the Boston Bruins on April 26

He didn’t just say that to try and get the team fired up. Much like Messier in 1994 with the New York Rangers, he backed his statement up with a two-goal performance in their Game 6 victory on Friday by a score of 7-5, including a power play goal to tie the game in the third period. In the end, the Cats showed up to Game 7 and got the job done on the road.

Is He Ready for Round 2?

Matthew and the Panthers now have a new task ahead of them. On Tuesday night, they will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round, a team that has not seen this portion of the playoffs since 2004 and has not won a cup since 1967.

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But proven by both their First Round victories, history or records do not matter to them anymore.

“They’re the best team I’ve ever played against in my career,” Tkachuk said. “The fact that we beat them is crazy. … Nobody in the whole world thought we were going to win this series except the guys in this room.”

Matthew Tkachuk on winning Game 7 against the Boson Bruins on April 30.

Additionally, Florida has a chance to vanquish another one of their demons in John Tavares. In the First Round of the 2016 Playoffs, the New York Islanders’ captain at the time ended their dreams in double overtime by a score of 2-1.

Regardless of how the next series goes, Zito made the right call to bring Tkachuk down to South Florida. He’s easily become the new face of the franchise.