Hurricanes Panthers Hockey

Florida Panthers left wing Matthew Tkachuk (19) reacts after scoring the game-winning goal against the Carolina Hurricanes in the waning seconds of the third period of Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference finals Wednesday, May 24, 2023, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI (AP) — Matthew Tkachuk went to high school with Boston star Jayson Tatum in St. Louis. He now has Miami star Jimmy Butler wearing his Florida Panthers jersey for workouts.

And everyone wants to know who Tkachuk is rooting for in the Boston-Miami matchup in the NBA's Eastern Conference finals. Understandably, the answer is a bit complicated.

"I think the best answer so I have people in St. Louis still on my side — I'm rooting for my two favorite players, Jimmy Butler and Tatum," Tkachuk said before Game 6 of the Boston-Miami series, the first time he was at a Heat game in person. "I hope they both go off … but for the whole Florida vibe, I hope this building is electric all night."

Tkachuk appeared on TNT’s pregame show before Game 6; TNT also will broadcast the Stanley Cup Final, which Tkachuk and the Panthers will be in after beating Boston, Toronto and Carolina for the Eastern Conference title.He hung out with Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal before his appearance, and said he couldn't believe he was there.

"It's kind of weird and shocking," Tkachuk said. "I don't feel like I belong at all."

The Heat also were the No. 8 seed for the playoffs, just like the Panthers were. And both have been part of surprising postseason runs, after both teams barely got into the playoffs. Butler wore a Tkachuk jersey for a shooting workout — "Crazy," Tkachuk said — a few days ago, putting photos on social media to show that he's rooting for the Panthers and the player they acquired last summer who helped turn everything around.

"What our team and their team have done so far in the playoffs has been spectacular," Tkachuk said. "It's been so fun to watch their games and have them be able to watch ours and just like both fan bases and all of South Florida rooting on both teams as well. It's been unreal."

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