Panthers without Tkachuk in Game 5 of Cup Final

    Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.

LAS VEGAS — Florida star forward Matthew Tkachuk, injured earlier in the series, will not play in Tuesday’s Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena, where the Panthers will look to avoid elimination in a series they trail 3-1 vs. the Vegas Golden Knights.

Forward Grigori Denisenko will take the place of Tkachuk, Florida’s leading scorer in the postseason, as the Panthers try to begin the road back to contention, with the Stanley Cup in the building.

Earlier in the day, Florida coach Paul Maurice told reporters he had decided on whether or not Tkachuk would play, he just didn’t want to share his decision.

Maurice said Tkachuk’s status would be revealed right before puck drop in Las Vegas, where Florida faces elimination.

Tkachuk leads the Panthers in goals (11) and points (24). He has been their most valuable forward in the playoffs with four game-winning goals — three of them coming in overtime.

Tkachuk was limited to just 16 minutes, 40 seconds of ice time in the Panthers’ Game 4 loss. Although he managed four shots on goal, he was clearly laboring with what appeared to be an upper-body injury. He skated only four shifts during the third period.

While he was cleared from concussion protocol stemming from a Game 3 hit from Vegas forward Keegan Kolesar, there may be lingering effects elsewhere due to his hard fall to the ice after that hit.

Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said Tkachuk’s absence would be felt in a must-win game.

“He’s a top player in this league,” Barkov said. “He’s a huge player for our team. No matter what, I think everyone has to step up a little bit and play a little better than we’ve been.”

Panthers players sounded confident Tuesday, with or without their star.

“We’ve been shorthanded a lot this year with big guys being in and out of the lineup and it’s just an opportunity for other guys to step up and take a bigger role, be more of an impact,” center Sam Bennett, Tkachuk’s linemate, said. “So that shouldn’t be an issue.”

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