The Florida Panthers Second Period Penalty Kill Was The Game Seven Turning Point

Matthew Tkachuk being wrongly sent to the box for tripping could have been a make or break moment for the Florida Panthers. Killing off that penalty was an important part of their game seven victory.
2024 Stanley Cup Final - Game Seven
2024 Stanley Cup Final - Game Seven / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Game seven is the most intense game in any sport. The previous season, even the previous six games, don’t matter and either team can emerge a winner. Author Rob Bell famously said “the best team doesn’t always win, it’s the team that plays the best”. Well the team that “plays the best” in game seven leaves with an extra reward because even more is on the line.

That’s the situation the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers found themselves in. Florida had let a commanding 3-0 series lead slip away as Edmonton would come back and tie it at three games apiece. If Edmonton won game seven, it would be a historic comeback for them and a historic downfall for the Panthers. If Florida won they’d avoid eternal embarrassment in the hockey history books all while rendering Edmonton’s improbable comeback moot.

The winning goal in the 2-1 cup clinching victory for Florida came from Sam Reinhart just past the 15 minute mark of the second period. The turning point in that game might have been Florida’s penalty kill earlier that same period. At the 3:22 mark of the middle frame Matthew Tkachuk was sent off for tripping Edmonton’s Warren Foegele. Replay suggested that Tkachuk was not at fault, as he had fallen to the ice and collided with a skating Foegele, but was still a temporary resident of the penalty box for the next two minutes.

The Florida Panthers second period turning point came with a big time penalty kill.

At the time the score was tied at 1-1. Florida would kill off the penalty, leading to ESPN’s broadcast crew to basically say “no harm, no foul” in regards to the penalty that shouldn’t have been called. Florida didn’t even do that good of a job on the penalty kill and constantly failed to clear the puck. Every time a tired Panthers penalty killer tried to knock it out of the zone, an Oiler’ stick would save it just before it crossed the blue line.

Edmonton’s power play had been a thorn in Florida’s side. The Oilers only scored three goals on the man advantage throughout the cup final, but all three came during the Panthers three game skid in potential clinching games. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored a power play goal in game four. Zach Hyman and Corey Perry would each score a power play goal at home in game five. Edmonton ironically almost had the same amount of shorthanded goals this series, with two, with one apiece as the opening tally in games four and five.

If Edmonton hypothetically scored a power play goal and took a 2-1 lead it mightnot seem like that much of a hill to climb, especially with more than half of the game left, but it would destroy Florida’s spirits. The ice had begun to shift in Edmonton’s favor during the second period as they had the lion’s share of offensive zone time. Edmonton had won all three second period face-offs although Florida had a 2-1 shot advantage on second period shots before the penalty was called. Adding that all important go ahead goal would have given Edmonton all the momentum in the world. To add insult to injury for Florida, it would have come on a penalty most believe shouldn’t have been called.

Florida definitely didn’t get any style points for how they killed the penalty, but they got the job done. We won’t say it game them momentum but was more of a “sigh of relief”. Florida had dealt with the punches coming one after one for three straight games. Killing of that penalty allowed them to remain calm and not have to play from behind. Two of Edmonton’s three power play goals this series where followed up by another goal for the Oilers. the exception was when Evan Rodrigues followed Corey Perry’s game five power play goal with a goal of his own 14 second later in an eventual 5-3 Florida loss.

The Panther’s three consecutive cup final losses were all in high scoring affairs. Game seven bucked that trend by being low scoring and having a one goal margin of victory, both for only the second time this series. That made every goal worth more. Even if it wasn’t there best work that penalty kill was monumental in keeping their hopes of winning that game alive.