Panthers beat Capitals in OT, win first playoff series since 1996

Panthers beat Capitals in OT, win first playoff series since 1996


WASHINGTON (AP) — Jonathan Huberdeau couldn’t remember what it was like to be on the smiling side of a handshake line.

The feelings were so strong after he and the florida panthers Beat the Washington Capitals 4-3 in overtime on Friday night to win Game 6 and advance to the second round that Huberdeau wants to repeat over and over again.

“We didn’t know how he felt,” he said. “Now we might as well go all the way.”

That’s a long way off, but getting out of the first round was a big first step for the Presidents Trophy winners who won the franchise’s first playoff series since 1996. Ending that drought at age 26 required bouncing back from the Capitals tying the score with 1:03 left in regulation and getting another great goal from top scorer Carter Verhaeghe 2:46 into extra time to move on.

Florida will face interstate rival and defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning or the Toronto Maple Leafs in the next round. They meet in Game 7 of that series on Saturday.

“It’s going to be big challenges,” interim coach Andrew Brunette said. “It will be a different kind of series.”

This series included the Panthers coming back from a deficit to win the last three games. After Ryan Lomberg equalized in the second period on his return to the lineup, trade deadline acquisition Claude Giroux leveled things up in the third and captain Aleksander Barkov put them ahead before TJ Oshie’s goal in power play will send the game to OT.

After a league-high 29 comeback regular-season wins and a dose of adversity in a tougher series than many expected, the Panthers weren’t affected by the sudden turn of events.

“We were confident,” Huberdeau said. “We know we can score some goals. Obviously they tied, but that’s hockey. That’s how we won here last time, so it was the same thing. Obviously we stood our ground, and that’s the kind of team we are and we showed it.”

Verheaghe’s overtime goal was his team’s leading sixth of the series and came after he missed the morning skate and was considered a decision at the time of the game. Brunette said that Verhaeghe “digged deep and found a way to do it.”

That’s true of the whole team. Haunted by a reputation for losing in the playoffs, Florida’s core of Huberdeau, Barkov and top defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who had fallen short three times before, were finally able to soak up what it’s like to win a series.

“It means a lot,” Barkov said. “There’s been a lot of talk about this and not winning any rounds, getting knocked out in the first round and things like that. Of course you don’t think about it, but it’s there. It’s not there anymore, so we’re happy about that and happy to be part of that. But there’s still a long way to go to the point where we really want to be.”

The Capitals got there in 2018, winning the organization’s first Stanley Cup title. They haven’t won a playoff series since then and were eliminated in the first round at home for the third time in that span.

“I think you see how we played against the best team in the regular season,” Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We have it, but we just blew it. It’s up to us.”

The Panthers’ most recent win in the series came on June 1, 1996, when they beat Pittsburgh in Game 7 to advance to the finals. They were swept by Colorado, beginning what would begin a 26-year wait between series wins.

Aside from the expanding Seattle Kraken, every other NHL franchise had won at least two series during that span. Detroit won 27, Pittsburgh 24, Tampa Bay 22 and Colorado won 20. Florida kept waiting and hoping for just one, until Friday.

“These things, you have to go through them multiple times to really feel what they’re like,” Brunette said. “You have to have broken hearts. You have to have things not go your way and you can find how difficult it is and understand it and be resilient and when you see the payoff like they saw tonight, it was all worth it.” “

NOTES: Lomberg played for the first time since Game 1, replacing Anthony Duclair in Florida’s lineup. Duclair was a healthy scratch after putting just one shot into the net in the first five games. … Washington was without right end Tom Wilson for the fifth straight game because of a lower-body injury.


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