Tkachuk sets 'tone' as Panthers repel Rangers for Game 1 win

Panthers shut out the Rangers to take Game 1 of the ECF (1:26)

Panthers dominate the Rangers 3-0 to take Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. (1:26)

NEW YORK CITY -- The Florida Panthers' Game 1 win over the New York Rangers may have set the tone for the Eastern Conference final. But Matthew Tkachuk unquestionably established it in Florida's 3-0 victory on Wednesday night.

Tkachuk opened the scoring with a first-period goal after delivering two booming hits on the Rangers' Vincent Trocheck.

"He's a leader. A true leader of this team," Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. "Today was a good example of that: He set the tone physically, made some plays and did whatever he does at his best. And we follow his lead."

Tkachuk finished with a goal and an assist on Sam Bennett's empty-netter that iced the win, giving Florida a 1-0 series lead ahead of Friday night's Game 2 at Madison Square Garden.

The Panthers forward has 16 points in 12 games, with five goals and 11 assists.

Tkachuk hasn't had the same star moments in the Panthers' series wins against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins as he did in Florida's run to the Stanley Cup Final last season. His coach, Paul Maurice, said that "I would never bet against him coming up with some heroics" in the conference final.

"The players have kind of come to expect it. So it's not necessarily a huge boost in that, 'Oh my god, Matthew scored a goal.' But for him, that just gets him cooking," Maurice said.

The Panthers coach said that Tkachuk's greatest contribution to the win was reorienting the team to face the Rangers. Game 1 was a tightly played, physical contest that remained 1-0 until 16:12 of the third period. Florida grinded out a win.

"What he did tonight is he righted our team back to the simple parts of our game," Maurice said. "These are the best players in the world and they're capable of doing more. But sometimes less is just way better, and it's also quite a bit smarter. And I thought he led in that department."

The Panthers got on the scoreboard first at 16:26 of the first period. Tkachuk took a drop pass from defenseman Gustav Forsling, used a screen from Rangers defenseman Adam Fox and beat goalie Igor Shesterkin for the 1-0 lead.

"It was smart because it was a shot off the rush, instead of trying to wait to find more," Maurice said.

Tkachuk said he doesn't feel any extra responsibility to be an offensive force in the conference final.

"I don't put any pressure on myself to score or produce offense. It's not about myself here. There's a way bigger goal ahead. Guys on our team that didn't score tonight were some of our best players," he said. "There's so much buy-in from everybody that nobody cares who's producing, who's doing whatever, who's doing the hitting. I mean, at the end of the day, we're here for wins. That's it."

The Panthers took Game 1 by killing two Rangers power plays, getting a strong 23-save performance from Sergei Bobrovsky and controlling play at even strength for long stretches. In the second period, the Rangers went 14:25 between shots on goal.

"I thought we had opportunities that we didn't cash in on really. Some of that we've got to give to them. Some of it we got to take responsibility with our execution and getting pucks to areas that we need to get to," Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said.

It's the first time the Rangers have trailed in a series in the 2024 playoffs, having gone 8-2 before facing the Panthers.

"It's onto the next game. It's a long, long, long fight," defenseman Jacob Trouba said. "I think throughout the course of a series, you're probably going to be down at some point throughout the playoffs. Anytime you lose a game, you want to respond in the next one."

Tkachuk believes the Panthers have room for improvement, too.

"All in all happy with how it went, but there are a lot of things that we can get better at," Tkachuk said. "But I never complain after a win, especially in playoffs. So on to Game 2."