Panthers Need Another 3-1 Series Comeback, This One In The Cup Final

Jun 10, 2023, 10:15 PM | Updated: 10:16 pm

Vegas Golden Knights Florida Panthers Stanley Cup Final 3-1 comeback...

SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JUNE 10: The Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights fight following the Knights 3-2 win against the Panthers in Game Four of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final at FLA Live Arena on June 10, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Matthew Tkachuk is hurting. So are the Florida Panthers. And time is running out in their improbable quest to go from being the last team to qualify for the playoffs to being the last team standing when the season ends.

A 3-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night put the Panthers in a 3-1 deficit in the title series. They’ve been down 3-1 before — they escaped that hole against the Boston Bruins in Round 1 — so they know it can be done.

But this time, with Tkachuk ailing, the odds seem significantly longer.

“We’ve been in this position before,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said. “It all comes down to one moment at a time, one period at a time. It is what it is.”

There is one major difference between this series and the Boston series: Tkachuk is ailing.

He won’t say it, because that’s a hockey thing, but between leaving the ice for much of Game 3 after taking a big hit and sitting out a good portion of the third period of Game 4 it’s obvious that the MVP finalist is far from MVP form right now — and he wasn’t going to offer any secrets about what’s ailing him, either.

“That’s just not going to come out right now,” Tkachuk said.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Las Vegas, with the hosts just win away from hoisting the Cup for the first time. Tkachuk will take Sunday and Monday to rest, and it’s hard to envision him not playing in Game 5.

The Panthers might have started laying the groundwork for one last comeback try of the season by how they finished Game 4 — a 3-2 win for Vegas. The Golden Knights led 3-0 in the second, Florida got within 3-2 early in the third on a goal by captain Aleksander Barkov, and the Panthers had one of their signature late-game flurries in the final seconds in a desperate effort to tie things up. But Vegas goalie Adin Hill slammed the door, and that was that.

“Came up probably a second short. … Two more seconds, you never know,” Tkachuk said.

RELATED: In Finally Competitive Stanley Cup Final, Vegas May Still Have Edge On Florida

The equalizer that Florida wanted never came, even after pulling Bobrovsky for an extra attacker with about 2 1/2 minutes left and getting a power play for the final 17.4 seconds. When the final horn sounded, there was a slew of punches thrown, a bunch of bodies driven into the ice. Tempers flared, but nothing found the back of the net.

That said, the Panthers haven’t lost their sense of humor. Asked postgame why his team is trailing in the series, Florida coach Paul Maurice pointed out the obvious.

“They keep scoring more goals,” Maurice said.

And now it’s simple: Win three in a row, or this run through the Stanley Cup playoffs won’t be capped by claiming the Cup.

A team coming back from 3-1 down has happened twice in the same postseason once before. Minnesota pulled it off in 2003; the Wild did it in Rounds 1 and 2.

But in the Cup final, it’s happened only once — and that was a mere 81 years ago. Toronto actually trailed the 1942 title series 3-0 to Detroit, and wound up rallying to take the next four games.

Further complicating matters is this: Vegas hasn’t had a three-game losing streak since January. Florida’s Cup hopes hinge on changing that.

“You’ve got to win four,” Barkov said. “It’s 3-1, I know. They’re one win away, we’re three wins away. But all we can do is think about one game, bringing it back to Florida. That’s our goal. That’s what we’re going to do in Vegas, go there and try and win that game.”

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Panthers Need Another 3-1 Series Comeback, This One In The Cup Final