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Matthew Tkachuk poised to be factor as Panthers head to Edmonton for Game 3 against Oilers

Matthew Tkachuk was once public enemy No. 1 in Edmonton.

After a geography-related cooling of tensions, he’s a good bet to reclaim that title beginning Thursday.

The Stanley Cup final switches to Rogers Place for Thursday’s Game 3 with Tkachuk’s Florida Panthers up 2-0 on the Oilers in the best-of-seven series.

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Known for crossing the line of on-ice decorum earlier in his career, the gritty winger left a mark on the Battle of Alberta during his six seasons with the Calgary Flames.

Tkachuk then forced his way out of town in the summer of 2022, landing with the Florida Panthers via trade before signing long-term with the franchise.

He was booed during Florida’s visits to Edmonton the last two seasons, but it wasn’t nearly the same vitriol — especially this season — as when he clashed with former Oilers forward Zack Kassian.

“I know that more than probably most guys,” he said.

Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) ties up Florida Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk (19) during second period game 2 action of the NHL Stanley Cup finals in Sunrise, Fla., on Monday, June 10, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Tkachuk’s last game with Calgary actually came in May 2022 when the Oilers eliminated the Flames in five games to advance to their first Western Conference final in 16 years.

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“When you play a team in Canada, there’s a different type of passion and spotlight,” said the No. 6 pick at the 2016 draft. “Everybody, in not only Edmonton but Canada, is going to be glued to their TVs.

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“You see the passion that Canadian fans have.”

Panthers centre Sam Bennett — selected fourth overall by the Flames in 2014 and traded to Florida in 2021 – was also in the middle of Edmonton-Calgary showdowns.

“It’s a big rivalry,” he said. “Any time you play against Edmonton, it was an intense battle, hard slog every game.

“I’m sure they’re going to be pretty intense again.”

Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said Tkachuk — and his intensity — has been a terrific addition to their group.

“A heart-and-soul guy,” he said. “An elite player, he can drop the gloves. He’s a great leader in the locker room. We are so happy to have him on our side.”

Bobrovsky suggested fans in Edmonton will be more focused on supporting their team than booing a familiar foe.

“The game will dictate the situation,” he said. “It’s not about history. It’s more about the moment.”

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Florida defenceman Brandon Montour said Tkachuk’s approach has changed from mixing things up after the whistle to just playing hard when the puck is in play.

“Staying out of it a little bit more,” Montour said. “He’s an effective player playing that role, but also a tremendous hockey player.

“Whatever Matty needs to do or wants to do, he’s one of the best at.”

Tkachuk has made a conscious effort to be available more for his team since arriving in South Florida and linking up with head coach Paul Maurice.

“(Extracurriculars) used to be a part of my game, … now it’s pretty non-existent,” he said. “What works is playing as hard as I can for 30 to 45 seconds. There’s no need to waste your time doing extra stuff.”

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Tkachuk, who’s in the final for the second straight spring after Florida lost to the Vegas Golden Knights some 12 months ago, is loving life in the sun.

“It’s been amazing,” said the 26-year-old. “A really cool group of guys. Everybody made me feel so welcome from Day 1, which I think led to success early.

“It’s a very good time to be a Florida Panther. I’m enjoying it. I love being down here. I love playing here. It’s been the best thing for me.”

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Tkachuk went to high school in St. Louis with Boston Celtics forward Jason Tatum, whose team leads the Dallas Mavericks 2-0 in the NBA Finals.

“Really cool when you think about it,” Tkachuk said. “There’s a lot of people, especially kids you grew up with and families and people that know us, that are pulling for both teams. It’s super cool to have that support.

“It would be unreal if we can both win it.”

Maurice and the media

The Florida bench boss has been appointment-viewing when he speaks to reporters throughout his long career, but more so than ever in these playoffs.

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He was asked about his handling of media obligations.

“I try to be respectful of your time,” Maurice said. “You lose enough hockey games, you lose the arrogance that you’re special and your job’s special. We all have a job to do.

“This doesn’t have to be an adversarial relationship.”

&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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