Florida Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk was looking to make a statement. Instead of doing it on the scoreboard, he delivered it on the ice.

Tkachuk leveled Vegas Golden Knights forward Jack Eichel with a hard hit late in the second period of Monday’s Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.   

The Vegas forward was cutting across the middle of the ice with his head down as Tkachuk – fresh off the bench – headed straight for him.  Eichel appeared to pick up the inbound train moments before the collision, shifting his weight and falling forward – right into Tkachuk’s shoulder. 

Eichel got back to his skates, red-faced and breathing hard, and immediately headed off the ice.

The Golden Knights defended their leading playoff scorer, resulting in a scrum that saw players from both teams come together. 

Referees Steve Kozari and Chris Rooney handed out 28 penalty minutes; a pair of matching roughing minors to Gustav Forsling and Alex Pietrangelo, and roughing minors plus 10-minute misconducts to Tkachuk and the Golden Knights’ Ivan Barbashev.



Tkachuk was baffled by the penalty called against him.

“I really have no idea what came about for that,” Tkachuk said. “I just came off the bench and saw him middle of the ice with his head down. It doesn’t matter who you are, you shouldn’t be going through the middle with your head down – you’re gonna get hit.”

“He’s a really good player,” Tkachuk added. “Really good players can get hit too.”

There was no penalty issued for the original hit. 

Not that there should’ve been. Eichel was eligible to be checked, there was no extension of an elbow, no charge, and no targeting of the head.  Eichel assumed partial responsibility for how it all went down.

“I kind of toe-picked a little bit,” said Eichel, who agreed with the non-call on Tkachuk.  “I saw him at the last minute and he finishes what I saw was a clean check on me.  It’s a physical game. You’re going to get hit sometimes.”

Eichel later returned to the game, tacking on a primary assist on Jonathan Marchessault’s third-period goal.

Vegas captain Mark Stone didn’t question the legality of the hit, but praised Eichel and his team’s resiliency in responding.

“It was a big hit, I think they were trying to change the momentum,” Stone said. “Just to see him come back and skate out of the tunnel for the third period, that’s a statement, right?  You can take shots at him, you can take shots at any one of us, we’re just gonna keep coming at you.”

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reached out to players and coaches across the league for their takes on the hit. Not one of them felt it was dirty.

“Didn’t help that [Eichel] toe-picked before he got hit, but it was a clean hit,” said Hall-of-Famer Mike Modano. “Open-ice hits are nonexistent anymore, so when they do happen, everyone assumes it was a cheap shot. That hit happened 40 times in the ’99 playoffs.”

The two teams weren’t done.  The lopsided score led the officials to keep the ice clear to avoid things getting out of hand. By the time the final buzzer sounded, eleven players had been sent to the locker room with misconduct penalties. 

The Florida Panthers finished Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final with only five players on the bench.

The Florida Panthers finished Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final with only five players on the bench.

In total, 148 penalty minutes were handed out, making this the most penalized game of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Florida picked up 84 PIM, while Vegas was assessed 64.  The Golden Knights went 2-for-4 on the power play, going 4-for-11 in the series; the Panthers went 0-for-4, dropping them to 0-for-7 in the final.

The Vegas Golden Knights went on to with the game 7-2. Referees for Game 2 were Steve Kozari (#40) and Chris Rooney (#5) with linesmen Kiel Murchison (#79) and Brad Kovachik (#71).