LAS VEGAS -- On the eve of the Stanley Cup Final, Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk hasn't lost his confidence. In fact, he is doubling down on his Florida team, the surprise darlings of the postseason.
"We didn't do it the easy way, that's for sure," Tkachuk said at Stanley Cup Final media day, ahead of Saturday's Game 1 against the Golden Knights. "For us to knock off this juggernaut in Vegas, it would probably be the hardest road to the Stanley Cup in history. So that's our goal is to knock off this team and see if we can make history."
Florida made the playoffs by just one point, in a race that came down to the final day of the regular season. In the first round, the Panthers shocked the Bruins, who set the NHL record for most regular-season points (135). Florida also eliminated Toronto, the third-best regular season team in the East, and Carolina, the second-best team in the East. Should the Panthers win the Cup, they would be the third team in NHL history to do it by eliminating four 100-point teams.
"A lot of talk has been made about us, and our path and the 8-seed and limping in and all that, which is completely understandable," Tkachuk said. "It motivates us, I guess, to a certain extent. But this isn't a drop-off by any means with this team. [The Golden Knights] ran through the West in the regular season as a 1-seed. ... So that's not a knock on the other teams that they've played; I think that's just how impressive they are."
Tkachuk said it would be "the greatest joy of my life" if he were able to complete this postseason run -- and his first season with the Panthers -- by celebrating with the Stanley Cup. Tkachuk has scored 21 goals in 16 postseason games, including three overtime game-winning goals.
"There's no luck in his game," coach Paul Maurice said. "He doesn't come to the rink hoping, 'Oh, that unbelievable play I made last night, I hope it doesn't disappear on me.' He's done this all year. ... This isn't something new to Florida. He's been that player."
Over the past six weeks, as his team rattled off wins, Tkachuk has become a media darling.
On the eve of the Final, he did an exclusive interview with People Magazine. Captain Aleksandar Barkov said at media day he was asked about Tkachuk five times in two languages.
Maurice said there is no better player to handle this spotlight than Tkachuk.
"I listen a lot to the player interviews. He's brilliant at it. And he's 25 years old," Maurice said. "So he has a deep confidence in himself and his game. That's exactly who he is. When he gets up and does that interview, that's Matthew Tkachuk. So he doesn't have to manufacture a brand, and he doesn't have to play a certain way. That's just him. So he can come to the rink, he knows what he's going to do, he knows what he's good at. So when you bring that inner peace to your game, that way I think you can become very consistent."