Tkachuk feels connection to Jimmy Butler: ‘We both play the game with very high emotion’

Matthew Tkachuk is one of the fiercest, most ferocious competitors in the NHL, so there was some appreciation when he saw the pictures of Jimmy Butler, one of the fiercest competitors in the NBA, wearing his jersey during a workout Thursday in Massachusetts.

The similarities — not just between the parallel postseason runs of the Florida Panthers and Heat as No. 8 seeds in the Eastern Conference, but also play style and attitudes of their two star forwards — are Tkachuk does feel some level of connection to Butler.

“We both play the game with very high emotion,” the superstar right wing said before the Panthers faced the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday at PNC Arena.

The pictures of Butler in Tkachuk’s jersey were a hit in Florida’s locker room and Tkachuk, who admits he hasn’t “paid attention too much” to all the specifics of Miami’s season because of how often the team’s games overlap, made sure to watch as much of Game 2 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals Friday.

What he saw was Butler distilled down to his purest form. The 33-year-old forward scored 27 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out six assists, nabbed three steals, blocked two shots and got into a forehead-to-forehead shouting match with Celtics forward Grant Williams in the fourth quarter of the Heat’s 111-106 win in Boston.

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It all felt pretty similar to what Tkachuk did to the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins last month in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs. The 25-year-old winger had five goals, six assists, four power-play points, 22 shots, a plus-minus of plus-5, 20 hits and two blocked shots, and assisted on the series-winning overtime goal in Game 7 to finish off a historic upset in Boston.

Less than three weeks later, Tkachuk delivered another historic moment in Game 1 of the NHL’s East finals, scoring a game-winning goal to beat the Hurricanes in the sixth longest game in NHL history early Friday in Raleigh, North Carolina, just barely 21 hours before Butler’s show at TD Garden.

“They’re in a very similar spot as us. They’re like the underdogs and going into each series, and kind of just believing in their team. And he’s one of the leaders in that and kind of like the emotional leader,” Tkachuk said. “I love watching him play, especially more being down in Florida, seeing him more than I ever have. I’m very impressed with him. He’s a gamer. He’s pretty dialed in with what he’s done these playoffs. Last night was a big example. That was fun to watch.”

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As a child, Tkachuk looked up to NHL stars like Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Rangers left wing Patrick Kane, who was a superstar for the Blackhawks back then, and also Baseball Hall of Fame first baseman David Ortiz because he rooted for the Red Sox. He loved how Ortiz thrived in clutch moments and tries to emulate it.

He did a pretty good job to kick of the NHL Conference Finals earlier this week.

“You want to be that guy at big moments,” Tkachuk said. “Jimmy and David Ortiz are two of the best at that. It was cool seeing Jimmy wearing my jersey. The guys got a big kick out of it.”

Tkachuk has one other connection to the Heat-Celtics series: He went to high school outside St. Louis with Boston superstar Jayson Tatum and they still keep in touch.

The last time they talked, he said, was before Game 7 of Round 1, right before Tkachuk and the Panthers eliminated Boston with Tatum in attendance.