Matthew Tkachuk isn't afraid to talk shit and mix it up, that's for sure. Even after his Florida Panthers improbably advanced through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Friday night, he's almost seething at how little everyone outside of his locker room believes in the team.
You can't blame Maple Leafs fans for wanting to face Florida in the conference semis. Anyone in Toronto in their right mind would've preferred that outcome. The alternative was the Bruins, who won the most regular-season games in NHL history. Boston was up 3-1 in its series against the Panthers until the underdogs roared back and stunned the B's to get through.
Everyone has fun shitting on the Leafs, and Tkachuk is no exception. I can cut him some slack here, though. Regardless of the context or how the Bruins were perceived to be the superior prospective second-round opponent, you're gonna feel a certain type of way when you hear these types of chants at you:
The last time the Leafs made it past the first round of the postseason before now was 2004. They had an opponent who'd just capped off a historic comeback who definitely could've been had. Instead, Tkachuk and his mates rallied around the narrative that nobody gave them a chance. In short order, they beat back any notion that they'd be emotionally and physically fatigued from the Boston series and pounced on Toronto to build a 3-0 lead out of the gates. Tonight's 3-2 OT win in enemy territory was merely the most recent example of Florida's collective resolve.
Lots of parity around the NHL this season. Kind of fitting that we've seen three of the Eastern Conference's four best teams get eliminated before the Conference Finals. Now, Florida and Carolina prepare to square off for the right to represent the East in the grand finale. The Canes will be favored in that matchup, but apparently, that's precisely how Tkachuk and the Panthers like it.