Matthew Tkachuk saw his opportunity and jumped at it.
In the dying moments of the Florida Panthers’ 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night, a heated scrum erupted after New Jersey’s empty net goal. Players from both sides were coming into the game after the Panthers’ Sam Bennett and Devils’ Damon Severson had to be separated.
With everyone trying to find a partner, Tkachuk selected Devils captain Nico Hischier.
Tkachuk was relentless in trying to get a piece of the Swiss centreman, grabbing the collar of his jersey, attempting to punch him while Hischier had his head down, and still skating after him when the two were initially separated.
It took more attempts, but the officials eventually pulled Tkachuk away from Hischier and the Panthers forward was then out for the remaining seconds of the game.
This wasn’t a random attack, though.
The two teams played in New Jersey less than a week ago, and with seconds left in the first period, Hischier tackled his captain counterpart, Aleksander Barkov, and crosschecked his left leg. Barkov hasn’t played since.
It doesn’t help that in slowed low light, it looks as damaging as any open-ice headshot, but Hischier is adamant it wasn’t on purpose.
“It was a great draw. I’m proud of my draws and obviously I didn’t do it on purpose,” Hischier She said after the match. “I didn’t even see him until the second period. I definitely hit his knee, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do or a dirty play. … It was definitely unfortunate and I hope he didn’t get too hurt.”
Thankfully, Barkov will not be absent from the squad long-term and is officially listed as a day-to-day.
However, Wednesday Tkachuk saw the near-post-match scrum as his chance to take revenge on his fallen captain and let off some steam. Add in the frustration of losing one of the best centers in the league for any length of time and the context of the Panthers’ season not going as planned, and you get the perfect recipe for some extracurriculars.
After this loss to the Devils, the Panthers went 15-15-4, far from winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season. Not much is going to plan in South Florida, but perhaps Tkachuk doing his signature post-boo antics can provide a spark that will set the Panthers on track to winning more hockey games.
In his first season in Florida, Tkachuk is leading the team in scoring by a wide margin, with 14 goals and 39 points in 31 games.
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