The 2023 Eastern Conference Final ended in the blink of an eye. The Florida Panthers completed their sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes with a dramatic 4-3 win in Game 4.
Despite the brevity of the series, there is still plenty to talk about in the aftermath of the Panthers' victory.
Let's take a look at the biggest takeaways from the Panthers' sweep of the Hurricanes.
Matthew Tkachuk is a bonafide superstar
Everyone knows Matthew Tkachuk is very good, but it's time we started mentioning him in the same category as players like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Nathan MacKinnon. That is the level Tkachuk has played on over the last two seasons -- and that's before he started this current, ridiculous run he is on the playoffs.
- Since 2021-22, Tkachuk has 82 goals, 131 assists, and 213 points in 161 games.
- That puts him ahead of Matthews in two categories (assists and points)
- It also puts him ahead of Mackinnon in all three categories.
More important is that Tkachuk has brought that dominance from the regular season to the postseason. Through the Panthers' first 16 playoff games, Tkachuk has scored nine goals while tallying 21 points, Oh, and he's displayed a flair for the dramatic.
- Tkachuk has four game-winning goals this postseason. His latest one came with 4.3 seconds remaining in Game 4 to win the Eastern Conference Final.
- The other three game-winners came in overtime, including the decisive tallies in Games 1 and 2 against the Hurricanes. If there is a big goal that needs scoring, Tkachuk will be there to light the lamp.
All that said, Tkachuk's impact extends well beyond his own stats page. The Panthers are a different team when he is on the ice, and that has been evident in the playoffs. With Tkachuk in the game at five-on-five, Florida controls 57.1% of the expected goals and 73.7% of the actual goals, per Natural Stat Trick.
Without Tkachuk, those numbers dip to 41.9% and 45.9%, respectively.
Coming into the 2022-23 season, there were a few geniuses pounding the Tkachuk drum, but he has exceeded even the loftiest of expectations. With each game-winning goal, it gets harder to deny that Tkachuk is one of the very best players in the world.
The hockey gods are merciless
When people look back on this Panthers-Hurricanes series years from now, they will only see a sweep. But that won't paint an accurate picture of the 2023 Eastern Conference Final.
- The Hurricanes lost each game by just one goal.
- Two of those losses came in overtime, and another loss came with 4.3 seconds remaining in regulation. Series don't get much closer than this one, whether they go four games or seven.
- To make matters even more devastating for Carolina, it played a relatively strong game at five-on-five. The Hurricanes generated more expected goals than the Panthers in all four games, and Game 3 was especially disheartening.
In that Game 3, a 1-0 loss for the Canes, they generated 2.62 expected goals at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick. The Panthers, on the other hand, generated 0.75 expected goals.
Throughout the entirety of the series, the Hurricanes created more expected goals, scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances than the Panthers. Unfortunately for Carolina, teams don't get points for any of that.
Teams need a couple bounces on the way to a Stanley Cup, but the hockey gods bestowed zero bounces upon the Hurricanes in this series. Head coach Rod Brind'Amour will take some heat for saying that his team didn't get swept, and that is fair, but his team did deserve better than the brooms.
Sergei Bobrovsky is earning his paycheck
All of those aforementioned stats about the Canes' expected goals and high-danger scoring chances never made an impact in this series because of Sergei Bobrovsky. For a decent portion of his time in Florida, the goalie's $10 million cap hit looked like a big hindrance for the Panthers.
These days, it seems like Bobrovsky might be underpaid.
Following a middling regular season, Bobrovsky didn't even start the first game of the playoffs for Florida. That honor went to Alex Lyon. But Bobrovsky got the nod in Game 4 against the Boston Bruins, and he's ran quite far with the opportunity.
Bobrovsky has backstopped the Panthers to a Stanley Cup Final, and he is a legitimate contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy now. He has been the best goaltender in these playoffs, and it's not particularly close.
- In his 14 appearances, Bobrovsky has saved 14.7 goals above average, per Natural Stat Trick.
- The next closest netminder is Adin Hill of the Vegas Golden Knights at 8.13 goals saved above average.
- Bobrovsky has also stopped 86.4% of the high-danger chances he has faced, which is fifth in the postseason.
Bobrovsky elevated his game even further in the Eastern Conference Final. He saved 5.67 goals above average in just four games while thwarting 91.1% of the high-danger attempts that the Hurricanes threw his way.
Heading into the Stanley Cup Final, the Panthers have the best goaltending situation of all the remaining teams with Bobrovsky playing at the top of his game. He just needs to do it four more times.