RALEIGH — Matthew Tkachuk stuck a knife in the Hurricanes in the first game of the Eastern Conference finals.
He gave it a turn in Game 2.
With Carolina’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the penalty box for hooking early in overtime, defensemen Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns got tangled up in the corner to give numbers to the Panthers in front. Florida forward Sam Bennett passed to Sam Reinhart, who one-touched the puck to Tkachuk for a backdoor tap-in to score his second straight overtime winner at 1:51 of the extra period and give the Panthers a 2-1 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday at PNC Arena.
“We have to find a few little things that can get us better and get us over the hump and steal some games down in Florida,” Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said after his team fell into a 2-0 hole in the series with Game 3 scheduled for Monday in Sunrise, Florida.
It marked the second straight game that Burns and Slavin were unable to get a puck out of the zone in an overtime loss. In Thursday’s Game 1, Slavin fanned on Burns’ backhanded clear, leading to Tkachuk’s goal at the end of the fourth overtime. On Saturday, it was an unlucky stick that felled the Hurricanes.
Burns won the race to the puck as it was wheeled around the boards, but Bennett met him and dislodged it. Aleksander Barkov and Slavin joined the battle.
“My stick got stuck in his skate,” Slavin said of his stick taking Burns down in the corner.
As Burns fell and Slavin reached for his stick after it was twisted from his hands, the Panthers perfectly executed a 3-on-2 to score on Antti Raanta (24 saves) and take control of the series.
“We know how the two teams are going at it,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I thought we had the better of it, (we) just haven’t found a way to score. I mean, that’s just it. So yeah, it’s a tough one.”
The Hurricanes fired 38 shots on Sergei Bobrovsky, but the Florida goalie continued his red-hot postseason with another near-perfect performance.
Carolina was able to shake off its heartbreaking Game 1 loss with a furious blitz to start the game. That included outshooting Florida 16-1 in the first 10 minutes of the game and again getting the first goal.
After Sebastian Aho’s glancing hit on Anton Lundell in the neutral zone, the Hurricanes counterattacked. Jalen Chatfield passed up to Stefan Noesen as he entered the Florida zone, and his weak shot was pushed aside by Bobrovsky.
Aho tracked down the rebound and wound up for a shot deep in the left circle, but he instead slap-passed to Chatfield in front, who redirected the puck in for his first career playoff goal and a 1-0 lead just 1:43 into the game.
But that was all the Hurricanes mustered out of a dominant start — aside from a goal by Jack Drury that, like a goal by Florida’s Gustav Forsling moments after Chatfield opened the scoring, was taken off the board following an offside challenge.
“Obviously we’d like to get a few more goals, especially when we’re buzzing like that,” Staal said. “One goal wasn’t going to cut it tonight, and we had our chances, had our looks to score a lot more than that, and they didn’t go in tonight.”
The Panthers then tied the game at 7:43 of the middle frame.
Florida killed off a Barkov penalty and the Panthers captain rewarded them with a nifty move in front to wait out Raanta — playing his first game since Game 5 of the first round series against the Islanders on April 25 — and lift a backhand over him to make it 1-1.
Then — much like the nearly 80 minutes of overtime on Thursday — neither team could find the back of the net. Until Tkachuk’s encore of overtime theatrics.
Now Carolina faces a big hole after suffering its first consecutive losses of the postseason.
“We wanted to get the one tonight to split it going back,” Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook said. “But just now our mindset is we’ve got to go get the next one and then we’ll go from there.”
Brind’Amour seemed confident that his team has more fight in it.
“This is not new to us,” he said. “We’ve been kicked in the teeth here a lot these last few years, and we’ve always responded. So I’m pretty sure that we will next game.”
Notes: Mackenzie MacEachern replaced Derek Stepan on Carolina’s fourth line for the game. … Staal had seven shots on goal, one shy of his career playoff high of eight in Penguins’ 4-3 loss in Game 5 of the 2010 first round against the Senators. … Paul Stastny had five shots on goal after registering none in Game 1. … The Hurricanes’ power play was 0-for-4. … Shayne Gostisbehere, who had one penalty in Carolina’s first 12 playoff games, was penalized twice in Saturday’s game. … The loss was the Carolina franchise’s 10th straight in an Eastern Conference finals game.