Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Panthers find their mojo to beat Capitals, advance to second round

WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — When the Florida Panthers faced their first real adversity of the season since their playoff series against the Washington Capitals, the players held a meeting to straighten things out.

He talked about what he needed to do better and got on the same page.

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

The Panthers win the franchise’s first playoff series since 1996 Relying on a familiar recipe from the regular season, when they were the best team in the NHL and led the league with 29 comeback victories. Each of his last three victories against Washington was in fashion from behind, once erasing a three-goal deficit and twice getting some overtime heroism from Carter Verheghe.

Early nerves faded at home early in the series when Florida began to feel the pressure. Then the Panthers began to look and play like their own and went on to face the winner of the series between back-to-back Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs.

“As the series progressed, I felt they loosened up a bit,” said interim coach Andrew Brunet. “He found his socks and left.”

That mojo gave the Panthers the confidence they needed to face a goal by Washington’s TJ Oshie in Game 6 with 1:03 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 pull out of it after an emotional victory.

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

No team scored as many goals during the regular season as the Panthers – a rate of 4.11 not seen since Mario Lemieux’s Pittsburgh Penguins. Florida did not yet have a team at the time.

Success came early in the organization’s existence with the trip to the Cup Final in its third season. After the Panthers were swept away by the Colorado Avalanche, they had not won a playoff series since, and their reputation for losing in the first round rests on the franchise and, in particular, cornerstone players Barkov, Huberdeau and defenseman Aaron Eckblad.

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

“We’re all happy and (it’s) a big relief for us,” Huberdeau said. “Feeling this, we didn’t know how it felt. Last time I thought he was a junior. It’s good to feel again about winning a series, and now we go to work and about the second round. think and who knows, win it too.”

Newcomers also played a major role. Trade-deadline takeover Claude Giroux scored in the third period of Game 6 and set up Verheghe for the overtime winner, some level of redemption for the longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain, when Washington tied it.

“Some people are probably a little down when they tie it up,” Giroux said. “I was probably one of them. But the mood was great. The boys were upbeat. The guys were feeling that if we play our game we will get chances and we will be able to score.

Even in the midst of their power-play struggles, the Panthers showed they could score 5-on-5 and received a solid goal from Sergei Bobrovsky to continue playoff hockey in South Florida. Even though his team did well again under the nickname “Comeback Cats”, Brunet saw the series far more than the Panthers did all year.

“I see a bunch of people who get hit and they don’t fall down and then they start hitting back,” he said. “To leave a target done late, those are heartbreaking moments. They can really impress you, it can kill speed, it can do a bunch of things and again we punched, we stood up and then we started punching back. It’s the epitome of what the whole season was like. ,


Follow Associated Press Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter https://twitter.com/SHowno


More Associated Press NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


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