Posts Tagged ‘Florida Panthers’

The Florida Panthers hired former Winnipeg Jets bench boss Paul Maurice to replace Andrew Brunette as their new head coach.

Maurice is joining the Cats on a three-year deal, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

The 55-year-old chose to step down as the Jets’ head coach in December, telling reporters the players needed a different voice. Winnipeg went 13-10-5 under his tenure to start the campaign.

Brunette served as Florida’s interim head coach from October after Joel Quenneville stepped down. The talented Panthers squad performed superbly under his direction, and Brunette helped the team capture the Presidents’ Trophy.

The Panthers set multiple benchmarks in 2021-22, including a franchise-high 58 wins, and they broke the salary-cap era record for most goals scored in a single season.

Florida didn’t perform as well in the playoffs, however, resulting in a second-round sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Panthers will offer Brunette a “significant role” to remain within the organization if he wants it, sources told Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli.

Brunette had been an assistant coach with the club since 2019 before being promoted in 2021-22. The Panthers went 51-18-6 after he took over on an interim basis.

An NHL coaching veteran of 24 years, Maurice has been behind the bench for the fourth-most games in NHL history (1,684) and ranks seventh all-time in wins (775).

Maurice kicked off his head coaching career with the Hartford Whalers in 1995 and stayed with the franchise – as they became the Carolina Hurricanes – until 2003-04. He then spent two campaigns with the Toronto Maple Leafs and had a second stint with Carolina before joining Winnipeg.

The Jets went 315-224-62 under Maurice’s leadership and made the postseason five times, including one conference finals appearance in 2018.

Andrew Brunette is a Jack Adams Award finalist after leading the Florida Panthers to a Presidents’ Trophy as the interim coach in 2021-22, but that hasn’t stopped the club from talking to multiple high-profile free agent bench bosses.

The Panthers have interviewed Barry Trotz, Peter DeBoer, Travis Green, Rick Tocchet, and will potentially speak to Paul Maurice, according to Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli.

Trotz is considered the biggest fish available. The two-time Jack Adams winner (2016, 2019) ranks third on the all-time wins list with 914 career victories. He coached the Nashville Predators for 15 years and the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders for four apiece. Considered a defensive mastermind, Trotz won a Stanley Cup with the Caps in 2018 and guided an unheralded Isles team to back-to-back conference final appearances in 2020 and 2021.

The 59-year-old intends to make his decision by July 1, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun. In addition to interviewing with the Winnipeg Jets and Detroit Red Wings for their coaching vacancies, Trotz has also spoken with the Predators about a potential management role.

DeBoer got his NHL coaching start with the Panthers back in 2008. He coached the Cats for three seasons before stops with the New Jersey Devils, San Jose Sharks, and Vegas Golden Knights, making Stanley Cup Final appearances with the Devils (2012) and Sharks (2016).

Tocchet spent last season as an analyst for TNT. He coached the Arizona Coyotes in the four years prior, leading them to one postseason appearance in 2019-20.

Green coached the Vancouver Canucks for parts of five seasons before the team fired him in December following an 8-15-2 record. He made one playoff appearance in 2019-20.

Maurice, who ranks seventh on the all-time wins list with 775 victories, coached the Winnipeg Jets for the last nine years before resigning in December. He also served as the bench boss for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes, the latter of whom he guided to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final.

After Florida’s second-round sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov gave Brunette a ringing endorsement.

“He did an unbelievable job,” Barkov said in May. “We all respect him, we all love to play for him, we love to work hard for him, and we had a lot of fun doing it.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning completed their second-round sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers with a 2-0 Game 4 victory Monday night.

Veteran forward Pat Maroon scored the game-winner in the third period while Andrei Vasilevskiy pitched a stunning 49-save shutout. Ondrej Palat sealed the deal with an empty-netter.

“We didn’t want to waste that game that (Vasilevskiy) played,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos told reporters postgame, according to team beat writer Chris Krenn.

The Bolts thought they opened the scoring twice in the second period, but both goals were called back after review.

The victory marked the Lightning’s first sweep under head coach Jon Cooper and 10th straight series win. Only the Montreal Canadiens (13 from 1976 to 1980) and New York Islanders (19 from 1980 to 1984) won more consecutive series.

Tampa Bay pulled off the sweep despite missing star forward Brayden Point, who was injured in Game 7 of its first-round clash against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I think we’re closer than ever, but we got swept. There’s another level we’ve got to climb. We’re still climbing,” Panthers interim head coach Andrew Brunette said, per team reporter Jameson Olive. “I believed that we were ready for that next step, but unfortunately we fell short.”

The Panthers controlled 51.8% of the expected goals and 57.9% at five-on-five throughout the series, according to Natural Stat Trick. However, the outstanding Vasilevskiy allowed only three goals on 154 shots, while the Lightning scored 13.

Vasilevskiy secured his sixth career series-clinching shutout, surpassing Clint Benedict and Chris Osgood (both 5) for the most in league history.

“I think it was our best game this series, but it wasn’t enough,” Florida captain Aleksander Barkov said.

Cooper made sure to give the Panthers some props.

“People are going to sit here and say, ‘What happened to Florida?’ No – a bounce here, a bounce there and it’s 2-2 and we’re going back to Florida at some point,” he said, according to Krenn. “Guys are exhausted – and it was only a four-game series.”

Since the 2004-05 lockout, only five Presidents’ Trophy-winning teams advanced past the second round, while only two won the Stanley Cup, per Sportsnet. The past four Presidents’ Trophy winners all lost four straight games leading up to their elimination.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow. Getting swept is tough,” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said, according to Olive. “It hurts. It stings. There’s no doubt about it.”

The back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions will face either the New York Rangers or Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is a not-so-secret key ingredient in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s recipe for success in the playoffs.

The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy recipient won his fifth straight postseason game Sunday, stopping 34 of 35 shots to help the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions beat the Florida Panthers 5-1 and move to the brink of another trip to the Eastern Conference Final.

“It all starts with him,” forward Nick Paul said after Vasilevskiy stood tall again in shutting down the high-scoring Panthers, who had the NHL’s best record while averaging a league-high four goals per game during the regular season.

The Presidents’ Trophy winners have three goals in three games against the Lightning, who have a commanding 3-0 series lead and are within one victory of advancing to the conference final for the sixth time in eight years.

“There’s a whole ton of things that go into it,” coach Jon Cooper said of Tampa Bay’s defensive effort.

“But we’re committed to play D, and I think it’s helped in some of these times that we’ve had the lead. … But we have a plan, and the guys are executing and playing hard, ” Cooper added. “We feel like we’ve got a recipe going here, and we just have to stick with it. It’s hard, though, because they’re a hell of a team.”

Steven Stamkos scored two goals and Nikita Kucherov had a goal and three assists for the Lightning, who are in the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons under Cooper.

Game 4 is Monday night at Amalie Arena, where Tampa Bay has won three of four games this postseason.

“We’re pleased with what’s going on here. But you know, we haven’t done anything yet,” Cooper said. “Until you start checking off that fourth win, there’s nothing we can sit and hang our hat on. We’re inching our way closer, but this is far from over.”

Corey Perry got the Lightning off to a strong start with his 50th career playoff goal and Erik Cernak also scored.

Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, allowed just one goal for the fourth straight game after allowing at least three in each of Tampa Bay’s first six games this postseason.

The 6-foot-3 goaltender, nicknamed “Big Cat,” was helped again Sunday by teammates who combined to block 19 shots.

“We’re down 3-0, so obviously we’re not happy with the results,” Panthers star Jonathan Huberdeau said.

“But we’re playing probably the best goalie. He’s making some saves. We’re having chances. We’re not getting bounces, too, right now,” Huberdeau added. “Credit to them, too, they’re blocking every shot. They’re a good team. You can see why they won two Stanley Cups.”

Sam Reinhart scored Florida’s lone goal Sunday, snapping a puzzling 0-for-25 start to the playoffs for the Panthers’ power play.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 31 of 34 shots, with Perry and Cernak both scoring only moments after Florida killed off penalties in the first and second periods. Stamkos’ one-timer off a pass from Kucherov made it 3-1 midway through the second.

Kucherov and Stamkos added empty-net goals in the final four minutes after the Panthers removed Bobrovsky in favor of an extra attacker.

“The expectation coming into every game is to win,” Stamkos said, looking ahead to Game 4. “But we realize the challenge ahead.”

Perry, who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent after being part of teams that lost to the Lightning in each of the past two Stanley Cup Finals, re-directed Ryan McDonagh’s shot past Bobrovsky to give the defending champs an early lead.

The Panthers, 0-for-25 on the power play through their first nine playoff games, finally broke through to tie it 1-all with Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov setting up Reinhart to beat Vasilevskiy from in front of the net.

Ultimately, though, Florida paid for its inability to capitalize on other opportunities.

Barkov just missed answering Cernak’s goal that put the Lightning ahead 2-1, sending a shot from the right circle off the post. The Panthers also narrowly missed pulling even during a second-period power play that produced several chances, including Huberdeau’s wide-open look that McDonagh deflected up over the net with his stick.

Florida finished 1-for-3, dropping to 1-for-28 in man-advantage situations this postseason.

“Not a lot of puck luck, and lots of credit to them,” Florida interim coach Andrew Brunette said.

“We fall behind, they’re a tough team to come back on. We kind of fell behind here this whole series and we haven’t found that extra gear from behind, which we found all year,” Brunette added. “But you have to play one game to bring it home and keep it alive.”

NOTES: With his 50th career playoff goal, Perry moved ahead of Brad Marchant and Patrick Bergeron into sole possession of sixth place among active career playoff goal leaders. … The Lightning are 9-0 in best-of-seven series in which they’ve won the first two games, including last year’s first-round victory over the Panthers. … Lightning C Brayden Point missed his third consecutive game because of a lower body injury suffered during Tampa Bay’s Game 7 victory over Toronto in the first round.

In four games over a pressure-filled week, the Tampa Bay Lightning have gone from the brink of playoff elimination to a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Ross Colton scored with 3.8 seconds remaining, giving the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers in Game 2 of their best-of-seven series on Thursday night.

The Lightning have won four straight since falling behind Toronto 3-2 in the first round and will look to take a commanding series lead over the Presidents Trophy-winning Panthers when the matchup moves across the state to Tampa for Game 3 on Sunday.

Colton said he was just trying not to get scored on in the final minute. He wound up being the hero when Nikita Kucherov retrieved a loose puck behind the Florida net and flicked a perfect no-look, backhand pass that Colton lifted over Sergei Bobrovsky’s right shoulder to win it.

“I was kind of trying to sit back and let the plays come to us. But when you’re on the ice with (Kucherov), you have to be ready for anything. Once I saw the puck behind the net, I just went to the front of the net,” Colton said.

“He’s got eyes in the back of his head, as you can see, because I didn’t even know he knew I was there. He gift-wrapped it for me,” Colton continued. “Luckily it just squeaked under the bar there, but unbelievable play by him.”

Florida, which had the NHL’s best record during the regular season, now has to win four of the final five games in the series to advance to the Eastern Conference final.

The Lightning, meanwhile, are playing like a team determined to become the first to win three straight Stanley Cup titles since the New York Islanders captured four in a row in the early 1980s.

“We’re two games closer to where we want to be, but we’re not there yet,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I told you this in the last series, and I’m going to tell you again: Tonight was just one game. We’re here to win a series.”

Florida interim head coach Andrew Brunette expects the Panthers to bounce back when the series resumes in Tampa.

“Obviously, it’s really hard. It’s not easy. This is a roller-coaster ride that were are on,” Brunette said. “The sun will come up, and we will wake up, and we need to keep playing like we’re playing.”

Tampa Bay’s power play once again was a catalyst, producing Corey Perry’s first-period goal after delivering three goals in the Lightning’s 4-1 victory in Game 1.

Florida’s power play, meanwhile, continued to sputter.

The Panthers scored the third-most power-play goals during the regular season, but entered the second game of the series 0 for 21 in man-advantage situations through seven postseason games.

They were 0 for 4 Thursday night, with the team’s lone goal coming on a 30-foot shot from Eetu Luostarinen that trickled past Andrei Vasilevskiy with 1:53 remaining in the second period.

“They are squeezing it,” Brunnette said of Florida’s power play. “It’s really unbelievable. I liked the urgency, thought we had some looks. I thought it was better. There was a great opportunity to capitalize.”

Bobrovsky said the Panthers have to try and forget this loss and come back ready to fight on Sunday.

“Obviously everyone is disappointed,” Bobrovsky said. “It was quiet, but all the guys are pros. They understand that the next game is big. We can make a difference in the future, not in the past. That’s it. We have to stay together and keep working.

“This is a good challenge for us. The whole year we have been fighting. We have found a way to come back in games, from adversities. This is another test for us. We’re just going to reset and regroup for the next one.”

Vasilevskiy stopped 34 of 35 shots for Tampa Bay. Bobrovsky finished with 25 saves.

NOTES: Brunette is a finalist for NHL coach of the year, as is former Panthers coach Gerard Gallant of the New York Rangers and Calgary coach Darryl Sutter — the brother of former Panthers coach Duane Sutter. The finalists were announced Thursday. … Tampa’s Amalie Arena is playing host to a concert Saturday, so the teams get an extra day off before starting a back to back with Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Monday. … Thursday marked only the second day that the Panthers had a home playoff game on the same day that the Miami Heat — their South Florida neighbors who play about 45 minutes south — had one of their own. The first such day was Tuesday.

The Tampa Bay Lightning won the first two games of their playoff series with the Florida Panthers on the road last year.

They’re halfway to a repeat performance.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period, Andrei Vasilevskiy remained red-hot with 34 saves and the Lightning topped the Panthers 4-1 in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series Tuesday night.

In Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper’s estimation, Vasilevskiy was the story.

“Look at the saves he makes at the times we need them,” Cooper said. “To me, that’s what great goaltenders do and they give you a chance to win a hockey game and that’s what our guy did again tonight.”

Nikita Kucherov and Corey Perry each had a goal and an assist, and Ross Colton also scored for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, who went ahead 1-0 against their in-state rivals for the second consecutive season.

Time and again, Vasilevskiy slammed the door on Florida. Over his last three games — all of them wins, including Game 7 at Toronto on Sunday — he’s stopped 94 of 99 shots.

“He brings 100 percent effort every single game and everybody’s just trying to take his energy and bring it to your game,” Kucherov said. “He’s a leader … he’s our best player.”

Anthony Duclair had the goal for Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida, which got 32 saves from Sergei Bobrovsky. Including the qualifying round that was held when the NHL restarted during the pandemic in 2020, Florida has lost seven consecutive Game 1s — a streak that goes back to 1997.

Game 2 is Thursday night.

“They are too good of a team, a veteran team, and they’re not going to open the door for you,’’ Florida interim coach Andrew Brunette said. “We had our opportunities. On to the next game.”

Duclair, a 31-goal scorer, was scratched by Florida for its series-clinching win at Washington, but he was back Tuesday and gave his team the lead by scoring on a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau at 14:01 of the first.

Duclair’s goal came after the Panthers killed off a pair of early penalties — one from MacKenzie Weegar and the other from Duclair — as special teams became a factor in the game.

Florida went 0 for 18 on the power play in the series win against the Capitals and was scoreless on three more tries Tuesday. But Tampa Bay cashed in three of its six chances.

“Part of our game plan was to stay out of the box,” Duclair said. “Their power play has been lethal.”

After Kucherov was hooked by Weegar, he went right around Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad and fed Perry for a tap-in goal at 16:22 of the second period.

Bellemare’s goal came 3:35 into the third period, giving Tampa Bay its first lead of the game — and the Lightning kept it the rest of the way. The Lightning won a faceoff in the Florida zone and Perry took a quick shot from the slot that Bobrovsky stopped, but the rebound squirted right to Bellemare.

He beat Bobrovsky to the glove side for a 2-1 lead.

It appeared, for a moment, Florida ended its long power play drought and tied the score when Duclair scored on a loose puck. Tampa Bay challenged, saying the puck went off the netting and was therefore out of play. Video review confirmed that and the Lightning continued to lead 2-1.

“We knew, right away our coaching staff told us that wasn’t going to be a goal,” Duclair said. “So you turn the page, get right back at it.”

But it was the last hurrah for Florida. Tampa Bay left no doubt late, with Kucherov and Colton each getting power-play tallies in the final 4:06 to put the game away.

NOTES: It was Cooper’s 124th playoff game with the Lightning. That broke a tie with Mike Babcock (Detroit) for fifth-most with one team, behind only Al Arbour (198, New York Islanders), Scotty Bowman (134, Detroit), Joel Quenneville (128, Chicago) and Glen Sather (127, Edmonton). … Florida fell to 4-8 in Game 1s, including the qualifying round two years ago. … Tampa Bay improved to 15-19 in Game 1s.

When the Florida Panthers faced their first real adversity of the season trailing their playoff series against the Washington Capitals, players held a meeting to set things straight.

They talked about what they needed to do better and got on the same page.

“After that, we just started playing the right way,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “We held each other accountable, worked really hard for each other and for the guy next to you. That’s how you win.”

The Panthers won the franchise’s first playoff series since 1996 by relying on a familiar recipe from the regular season when they were the NHL’s best team and led the league with 29 comeback victories. Each of their final three wins against Washington was in come-from-behind fashion, once erasing a three-goal deficit and twice getting some overtime heroics from Carter Verhaeghe.

Initial nerves at home early in the series faded when Florida started to feel the pressure. Then the Panthers started to look and play like themselves and moved on to face the winner of the series between the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs.

“As the series went on, I felt they loosened up a little bit,” interim coach Andrew Brunette said. “They found their mojo and got going.”

That mojo provided the confidence the Panthers needed to withstand a tying goal by Washington’s T.J. Oshie with 1:03 left in Game 6 and a series-long 0-for-18 drought on the power play. They joined only a handful of teams in NHL playoff history to win a best-of-seven series without scoring a power-play goal but could still get a chuckle out of it in the aftermath of an emotional victory.

“We just got to stick with it and, obviously, maybe work on our power play because we haven’t scored a goal,” top winger Jonathan Huberdeau said.

No team scored as many goals as the Panthers during the regular season — a rate of 4.11 a game not seen since Mario Lemieux’s Pittsburgh Penguins. Florida didn’t have a team yet at that point.

Success came early in the organization’s existence with a trip to the Cup Final in its third season. After the Panthers were swept by the Colorado Avalanche, they hadn’t won a playoff series since and the reputation of losing in the first round latched on to the franchise and, particularly, cornerstone players Barkov, Huberdeau, and defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

Verhaeghe was the team’s leading scorer with 12 points on six goals and six assists, but Florida’s core players were a big part of moving on and got a chance to soak it all in.

“We’re all happy and (it is) a big relief for us,” Huberdeau said. “Having this feeling, we didn’t know how it felt. The last time I felt that was junior. It’s just good to have that feeling again about winning a series, and now we just go to work and think about second round, and who knows, win this one as well.”

Newcomers played a major role, too. Trade-deadline acquisition Claude Giroux scored in the third period of Game 6 and set up Verhaeghe for the overtime winner, which was some level of redemption for the longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain after losing a key faceoff late in regulation when Washington tied it.

“When they tie it up, maybe some guys are down a little bit,” Giroux said. “I was probably one of them. But the mood was great. Guys were excited. Guys had a feeling that if we play our game we’re going to get our chances and we’ll be able to score.”

Even amid their power-play struggles, the Panthers showed they could score at 5-on-5 and got solid goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky to keep playoff hockey going in South Florida. Even though his team had made good on the “Comeback Cats” nickname again, Brunette saw the series as more of what the Panthers did well all year.

“I see a group of guys that get hit and they don’t fall down and then they start hitting back,” he said. “To give up a late goal, those are heartbreaking moments. They could really affect you, it could kill momentum, it could do a bunch of things and again we took the punch, we stood up, and then we started punching back. That epitomizes what the whole season was.”

Carter Verhaeghe was brought to the Florida Panthers for big postseason moments.

Like this one.

Verhaeghe set a Panthers franchise playoff record with a five-point night — two goals, three assists — and the Comeback Cats pulled off another rally, this one obviously the most important of their season. Florida erased a 3-0 deficit to beat the Washington Capitals 5-3 on Wednesday night, taking a 3-2 lead in the teams’ Eastern Conference first-round series.

“Things are going pretty well right now for me,” said Verhaeghe, who helped Tampa Bay win a Stanley Cup in 2020. “And the team. We’re up 3-2, we have two chances to win one game, things are looking pretty good.”

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 30 shots for Florida. Patric Hornqvist, Claude Giroux and Sam Reinhart also scored for the Panthers, and Aleksander Barkov had two assists.

T.J. Oshie scored twice for Washington, which also got a goal from Justin Schultz and two assists from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Ilya Samsonov stopped 33 shots.

“Giving up a three-goal lead, I don’t know how many times we’ve done that this year,” Oshie said.

The answer would be twice.

Both times, at Florida.

Verhaeghe broke the Panthers’ playoff scoring record that Ray Sheppard set on a four-point night back on April 22, 1996 — which remains the last, and only, season in which the Panthers won a playoff series.

They can change that Friday, when Game 6 is played in Washington. Game 7, if necessary, would be back at Florida on Sunday.

“We didn’t start the way we wanted to … then we started to play the right way,” Barkov said.

Verhaeghe gave the Panthers the lead to stay at 3:04 of the third, after a pair of marvelous plays at both ends. He created a turnover deep in the zone, sent the puck to Barkov and then went into a full sprint for about 100 feet of ice to find a spot to receive the return pass.

Barkov put it on his stick, Verhaeghe put it into the net, and Florida led 4-3. Bobrovsky slammed the door from there, Giroux scored the insurance goal at 15:55, and the Comeback Cats had done it again.

“Felt like we gave that game away,” Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom said.

This was the season of the comeback for Florida, which had an NHL-best 29 come-from-behind wins during the regular season. The Panthers pulled off five wins after trailing by three goals, and rallied in the final moments of Game 4 to force overtime in Washington before winning early in the extra session and tying the series.

Florida’s rally matched the largest in an NHL playoff game since April 19, 2011, when the San Jose Sharks erased a four-goal deficit to beat the Los Angeles Kings 6-5. There had been three two-goal deficits in these playoffs entering Wednesday, but nobody had successfully dug out of a three-goal hole.

Until now.

Oshie opened the scoring at 7:09 of the first, doing what he probably does best — redirection. He set up in the slot, obstructing Bobrovsky as best he could, then changed the flight of a shot by John Carlson just enough to get it into the net for a 1-0 Washington lead.

It stayed that way until the second, when two goals in a span of 1:25 looked to give Washington full control. Schultz found a crease within a maze of bodies in front of the net and blasted the puck through to make it 2-0, and Oshie finished off a pass from Kuznetsov on a 2-on-1 break to make it 3-0.

And that’s when the Panthers did what they do best — rally.

“There’s two games that were played,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said. “There was a game to push it to 3-0 where I liked everything we did. … And then there’s a game that took place after that.”

In a span of 7:51, Florida went from down three and in huge trouble to tied going into the third. Verhaeghe watched the puck come off the end boards and batted it in to get Florida on the scoreboard. Hornqvist went over Samsonov’s glove on a breakaway, and the equalizer came from Reinhart. He picked up a loose puck at the edge of the crease and tapped it into the back of the net to make it 3-3 going into the third.

The Capitals were 20-1-0 in games when they led by at least three goals at any point this season, including playoffs. The one defeat — Nov. 30, when a 4-1 lead going into the third became a 5-4 loss.

The opponent that night? That would be the Panthers.

“I thought we started taking over the game like we’ve done so many times this year,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette said. “Showed our resiliency and belief that we’re in any hockey game.”


Florida’s last 3-2 series lead was a decade ago, the 2012 first round against New Jersey. The Panthers lost Games 6 and 7, the finale at home in double overtime. … Florida went 0 for 3 on the power play, dropping the Panthers to 0 for 16 in the series and 3 for 26 against the Capitals this season. … Florida’s longest stretch of games in the regular season without a power-play goal was seven, from Nov. 8-20. The Panthers had at least one man-advantage goal in six of the final seven games of the season, but remain blanked through the first five games of this series. … Oshie had the sixth multi-goal playoff game of his career.


Game 6 is Friday in Washington.

The “Comeback Cats” are back — in playoff form.

Known for their propensity to play from behind and win on the way to the NHL’s best regular season, the Florida Panthers finally delivered a little of that magic in the postseason, and not a minute too late.

Sam Reinhart tied it late in regulation, Carter Verhaeghe scored the overtime winner and the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 in Game 4 Monday night to tie the first-round series.

No team had more comeback victories than Florida’s 24 this season, and now it has home-ice advantage back going into Game 5 on Wednesday night in Sunrise.

“I feel a lot of trust in them that they’ll make something happen,” interim coach Andew Brunette said. “They’ve done it all year and they continued to do it tonight.”

The Panthers were just over two minutes away from facing the prospect of getting knocked out at home. Then, with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky pulled for an extra attacker, Reinhart collected a loose puck after it bounced off Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway and beat Ilya Samsonov with 2:04 remaining in the third period.

“Those are the kind of situations you want to be in as a hockey player,” Reinhart said. “It’s a game that can really go either way at the end of it and we stuck with it and we’re happy with the result.”

Brunette was happy he didn’t call Bobrovsky to the bench sooner. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner made a right pad save on Marcus Johansson with 3:24 left — 15 seconds before going off and a few shifts before Reinhart scored.

“It’s huge having him back there,” Reinhart said. “He’s been solid all series and gives us all the confidence in the world to make plays.”

Given the combination of nerves and playoff inexperience that contributed to Florida’s struggles in the series, Reinhart’s goal may turn out to be the one that saved its season. Verhaeghe’s second goal of the game 4:57 into OT gave the Panthers an extra shot of adrenaline for the flight home.

“We wanted to come in and have our best game of the series, and I think we did a pretty good job,” said Verhaeghe, who played eight games in the 2020 playoff bubble for the Tampa Bay Lightning when they won the first of consecutive Stanley Cup titles. “It’s just kind of a building block. We know we have another level to get to, and we’re a great team, so I think it’s just building some confidence.

The Panthers outshot the Capitals 32-16 and look to be finding their game even amid some trouble finishing. They went 0 for 4 on the power play to make it 0 for 13 in the series and couldn’t put the puck in the net at 5 on 5. Verhaeghe’s first goal came at 4 on 4.

Washington let a late lead slip away after going up 2-1 on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal with 10:29 left in regulation. T.J. Oshie scored a power-play goal in the first for the Capitals, who have not won consecutive playoff games sine 2019.

“At the end, it was bad bounces and it goes in,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “It is going to be a tough, long series, so move on. Forget about it, move on.”

Holding on would have given the Capitals an opportunity to finish off the Panthers on Wednesday. Blowing the lead is a blow for a team already playing without right winger Tom Wilson and now needing to win at least once more on the road.

“In third period, it was everything in our hands,” Kuznetsov said. “We’re going to play best-of-three right now. There is no panic. Still pretty good chance.”

The Panthers feel the same way after clawing back in a series that has seen the teams trade wins. But they’re trying to stay even keel given the big expectations on them to make a run and the climb they had to make to tie things up.

“Glad to go home even in the series 2-2,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Just keep working. Keep getting better. Keep finding ways to win.”

NOTES: Brunette hopes the NHL’s department of player safety looks at Oshie’s hit on Sam Bennett right before Kuznetsov scored. “I didn’t like the hit,” he said. “I thought it was targeted to the head.” … The Panthers stuck with the same lineup from Games 1-3, but moved some players around at forward and on defense.

Fans’ cheers brought Ilya Samsonov close to tears on the way to his first NHL playoff victory.

Chants of “Sammy! Sammy!” followed one of many important saves he made in Washington’s 6-1 rout of Florida in Game 3 on Saturday. Samsonov rebounded after allowing an early goal and the Capitals bounced back from a blowout loss in Game 2 to take a lead in the series against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers.

Samsonov made 29 saves in his first start this postseason, taking over for Vitek Vanecek and giving teammates and coach Peter Laviolette exactly what they hoped for out of a goaltender whose play ranges from stellar to suspect. From big saves in tight on Florida captain Aleksander Barkov to the stop on Sam Reinhart that ignited the chants, this was the best of Samsonov at the most opportune time.

“I am ready all the time,” he said. “Sometimes you start playoffs, sometimes another goalie, but you need to get ready for every game. I understand if you want to win, you need to win 16 games.”

The Capitals would take two more this round to start. Game 4 is Monday in Washington.

Alex Ovechkin scored on the power play and assisted on T.J. Oshie’s power-play goal. Marcus Johansson, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Garnet Hathaway also scored and John Carlson contributed an empty-netter for the Capitals, who shook off a 5-1 loss in Game 2 and an early deficit in Game 3 behind the play of their new starting goaltender and a stingy effort that stymied the NHL’s best regular-season offense.

“We all know playoffs have their swings and momentums,” said Oshie, who redirected Ovechkin’s shot past Sergei Bobrovsky for his goal. “A team wins one game, the other team is going to make some adjustments and come at you twice as hard the next game. They did that in Game 2 and it was our turn to respond in Game 3, and I think the boys did a really good job from the drop of the puck all the way through.”

Samsonov got the nod over Vanecek in net after stopping all 17 shots in relief Thursday. He got off to a rough start, giving up a goal to league MVP candidate Jonathan Huberdeau less than three minutes in — then stopped every shot he saw the rest of the way.

“A little bit nervous the first five minutes, but it’s just normal for a goalie,” Samsonov said. “After a couple saves, I feel pretty good physically, mentally.”

With Samsonov the backbone at even strength and short-handed, Washington’s penalty kill improved to 9 of 9 against Florida, which ranked fifth on the power play this season at just under 25%. The Panthers also led the league in scoring at more than four goals a game.

But this series against an opponent with more experience in postseason hockey — seven players remain from Washington’s 2018 Stanley Cup championship — has been another rough lesson for the Panthers about how to win the playoffs. Ill-advised penalties by top-pairing defenseman Mackenzie Weegar and Huberdeau paved the way for the power-play goals, a missed defensive assignment opened the door for Johansson’s and a turnover in the corner led to van Riemsdyk’s.

“To me, frustration’s taken over, for some reason,” interim coach Andrew Brunette said. “When you get frustrated, it usually means you’re not working hard enough. Our compete has not been what it has been all year. It could be nerves. But we have to find a way. You get frustrated when you’re not working hard. That’s kind of the case right now. You do undisciplined things because you’re frustrated.”

Similar mistakes cost Florida in the first round last year: a loss to Tampa Bay on the way to the Lightning’s second of back-to-back titles. Only this time, the Panthers were expected to make a deep run after compiling an NHL-best 122 points on 58 victories in 82 games.

If they don’t win three more over the next week, it’ll go down as another disappointment for a franchise that hasn’t advanced in the playoffs since 1996 and entered the postseason as one of the favorites to hoist the Cup. Defenseman Brandon Montour said the Panthers “weren’t really ready to play.”

“It’s playoff hockey — it’s going to be tight,” Montour said. “We’ve just got to play harder. That’s where it starts.”

The Eastern Conference eighth-seeded Capitals improved to 4 of 12 on the power play in the series. Their victory guaranteed at least two more home playoff games this spring, though Monday won’t be an easy one against the angry Panthers and Laviolette knows it.

“If we don’t follow it up, then that’s on us,” he said. “It’s got to be pointed from right now. We’ve got to make sure that our mindset is knowing exactly where they’re at.”

NOTES: Ovechkin’s goal was his 72nd in the playoffs, tying him with Patrick Marleau and Esa Tikkanen for 14th on the career list. His 28 power-play goals are tied for seventh. … Capitals right winger Tom Wilson missed a second consecutive game with a lower-body injury. … Connor McMichael made his NHL playoff debut, replacing Brett Leason, who took Wilson’s spot in Game 2.