One NHL playoff streak ended while another one just kept right on going.
Florida snapped its 26-year playoff series drought with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 6 Friday night. The Panthers hadn’t won a playoff series since 1996, when they appeared in a Stanley Cup Final.
“[That series win] was a long time coming,” said Jonathan Huberdeau, who notched three points in the series against Washington. Now, we might as well go all the way.”
Florida, which advanced thanks to Carter Verhaeghe’s OT game-winner, moves on now to face the winner between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round. Game 7 of that series is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.
While Florida finally earned a playoff series victory, Washington just keeps bowing out of the playoffs early. The defeat made for four consecutive first-round exits for Washington, who haven’t advanced in the playoffs since winning a Stanley Cup in 2018.
“[It’s] a kinda f—ed up situation,” said Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin of the team’s dry spell. “I think you see how we played against the best team in the regular season. We have it, but we just blow it away. It is on us. It is on me, on [Nicklas Backstrom], on [TJ Oshie], on [John Carlson]. It is on everybody.”
“We basically gave the series to them,” added Backstrom.
Washington didn’t make it easy on Florida, though. The Capitals were in tough to start these playoffs, entering as an eight seed up against the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners. Florida dominated the league offensively from the get-go and topped out at a franchise-record 122 points.
Still, the Capitals gave Florida all it could handle, taking a 2-1 series lead after Game 3.
In fact, Washington won Game 1 and Game 3 by a combined score of 10-3, pushing Florida netminder Sergei Bobrovsky to the limit and challenging Florida’s stable of high-octane forwards. In Game 5, the Capitals held a 3-0 lead too, but they let it slip away to end up with their own backs against the wall.
That was a crucial swing for the Panthers. It not only gave them back an upper hand in the series but quieted some of Washington’s burgeoning confidence ahead of what would be a decisive Game 6 in their own building.
“These things, you’ve got to go through them to really get the feel of it,” Panthers’ interim coach Andrew Brunette said of handling adversity. “You have to have heartbreaks. You find how hard it is, you understand it, and you be resilient. When you see the reward like they saw tonight, it’s all worth it.
“We took the punch, we stood up, and we started punching back.”
Washington tried its best even in Game 6 to keep Florida from moving on, scoring late to force overtime and forcing the Panthers work for the series victory.
The Capitals were on the board first in that game too, when Nic Dowd beat Bobrovsky early in the second period.
But Ryan Lomberg responded quickly for Florida, making it 2-2 heading into the third period.
The Capitals kept the pressure on, and Backstrom put them back on top less than two minutes into that final frame. Claude Giroux notched his third of the postseason for Florida to even things up midway though, and captain Aleksander Barkov scored the go-ahead goal for the Panthers late in the third.
Verhaeghe’s game-winner for Florida was his sixth goal of the postseason. He had left the game earlier with an apparent injury but returned to play hero for the Panthers. In doing so, Verhaeghe became the first NHL player to score three straight game-winning goals in the playoffs since David Krejci in 2011 and he’s the first player in Florida’s franchise history to score multiple OT playoff game-winners in a single series.
The Panthers move on now to the second round holding the inauspicious designation of the only playoff team not to have scored a power play goal. Florida went 0-for-19 against Washington with the extra man, after boasting the league’s fifth-best power play (24.4%) in the regular season.