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Status of Matthew Tkachuk is biggest question facing Panthers down 3-1 in Stanley Cup Final

panthers stanley cup final

Matthew Tkachuk disappeared from Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final for more than 10 minutes. He didn’t want to say what caused the absence or what it would take to sit out.

“Obviously, you want to be out there playing,” Tkachuk said.

The biggest question facing the Florida Panthers on the brink of elimination is whether they’ll have Tkachuk in Game 5 on Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights, who are looking to hoist the Stanley Cup on home ice. Tkachuk missed more than 10 minutes of the third period Saturday night before returning for the conclusion of a comeback bid that fell short.

Asked Sunday about the status of Tkachuk and other banged-up players, including winger Anthony Duclair, coach Paul Maurice said they’d get treatment before flying and then again after landing in Las Vegas.

Tkachuk was clearly not 100% late in Game 4, when in the aftermath of a loss that put Florida down 3-1 in the series he didn’t want to divulge when he was injured. But it would have taken a lot to keep Tkachuk - Florida’s emotional leader and top playoff scorer - off the ice.

“Matthew’s been a grinder his whole life, and he was again,” Maurice said. “We were just looking and hoping to get into a situation where he could use what he had to give us.”

Looking to become the first team to climb out of a 3-1 hole in the final since before World War II ended, the Panthers could use something out of Tkachuk. The key is trying to figure out how the 25-year-old can help.

“(It is) Just situational right,” Maurice said. “There are players that will play just power play. There are guys that will stay on for offensive-zone draws. There’s different styles of center and winger that you can play with to kind of put them in a position to be good at what they can be good at.”

Tkachuk, who’s tied for the playoff lead in points with 24, refused to say when he was injured. He skated more than three minutes after returning to Game 4 and still sounds defiant about getting on the ice no matter what’s bothering him.

“Obviously, you want to be out there playing,” he said. “Just was able to go out there at the end and tried to make some magic happen late.”

Tkachuk and the Panthers were unable to make that magic happen, forcing them into a win-or-go-home situation in Game 5 and beyond. They erased the same deficit against Boston in the first round, but this looks like more of an uphill climb given the grind and attrition they’ve gone through to get to this point.

“I don’t know what is going to come from this,” Tkachuk said. “I mean, we’re excited that we have an opportunity that we’re comfortable in, like we had in the Boston series, so you never know.”