Cold Cats

By: Robert Craft news services

The Florida Panthers dismissed the Carolina Hurricanes in dramatic fashion taking Game 4 at home 4-3 to complete their sweep of the Eastern Conference final.

There is forbidden sports magic happening in South Florida. Look at the Panthers’ heart pounding win via Matthew Tkachuk with 4.9 seconds left in the game. That’s Electric stuff.

The Panthers (No. 8 seed/East) have bulldozed their way to the Stanley Cup Finals coming off a stunning sweep. This is champion-level momentum.

After going down 3-1 in the opening-round with the best regular-season team in the NHL,  they’ve won 11 of their last 12 playoff games, and they literally made the playoffs by a point.

The primary voodoo wielder is Tkachuk, who channels the hockey royalty in his veins by scoring the most impactful goals. Looking at Tkachuk’s history, he’s ended multiple games in overtime this postseason. “Insane” feels like a light word for the feat.

The Panthers aren’t lacking in high-end skill; they were the fifth-highest-scoring team in the league this season. But with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line, it wasn’t Aleksander Barkovor Tkachuk or Carter Verhaeghe who scored the go-ahead goal in the second period, it was Florida’s fourth line that came up with it — in gorgeous fashion, no less.

Ryan Lomberg pounced on a Jesperi Kotaniemi turnover just inside the blue line, and triggered a beautiful passing play — Lomberg with a saucer pass to Eric Staal, who wheeled and passed to Colin White, who probably should have shot but instead sent the extra pass across the goalmouth to Lomberg for the back-door tap-in. Looked like a play they ran a million times, on the biggest stage of the postseason thus far.

Anything short of perfection would have seemed like a letdown with the way Sergei Bobrovsky was playing through the first three games — 132 saves on 135 shots, but Bobrovsky looked decidedly human in this matchup.

There were a few more glove bobbles, a lot more rebounds and three goals against. First, Bobrovsky lost sight of a shot off the post, and Paul Stastny  cleaned it up. Then, Teravainen took advantage of a broken Colin White stick and beat Bobrovsky from the low slot.

There were a few more hairy moments, but Bobrovsky locked it down in the third period and finished with 36 saves. He ends the series with a .965 save percentage, giving up a total of six goals in four games.

Looking ahead, The Panthers expect to face Vegas or Dallas in the Final.

Based on premature betting odds already out, Florida would be a small underdog to Vegas but a slight favorite vs. Dallas,  not that underdog status has meant anything to the Panthers this postseason.

It had been 26 years, 11 months and 24 days since Florida last scored a victory that clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on June 1, 1996 (but who’s counting?).

This time, Cats fans got to enjoy it.