Henceforth, the District of Columbia shall be known to Cats fans as Carter Country!
After winning Game 4 at Capital One Arena with an overtime marker, Carter Verhaeghe did it again, scoring 2:46 into the fourth period to push the Florida Panthers past the stubborn Washington Capitals by a 4-3 count, getting the Cats to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.
With the Panthers applying a heavy forecheck, Ben Chiarot threw the puck down low to Claude Giroux and he found Verhaeghe in the slot. The pass wasn’t the greatest so Verhaeghe had to use his skate to position the puck and then backhanded it by Ilya Samsonov for his third straight game-winning goal.
WHO ELSE BUT CARTER VERHAEGHE— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) May 14, 2022
Verhaeghe finished the tightly-played series with an astounding six goals and franchise-record 12 points. He is currently tied with Connor McDavid for the NHL lead in playoff scoring.
After a scoreless opening frame, los Gatos fell behind early in the second when they left Nic Dowd open in front and he took a centering pass from Garnet Hathaway and snapped a hard shot off the post. Sergei Bobrovsky couldn’t find and sit on the rebound and Dowd was able to poke it home. Johan Larsson drew the second assist on Dowd’s first of the playoffs at 3:44.
It didn’t take long for the Panthers to respond. Aaron Ekblad a nice play at the Washington blue line to send Eetu Luostarinen and Patric Hornqvist in on goal. Luostarinen slid the biscuit over to Hornqvist and he steered a backhand at Samsonov that was denied. Ryan Lomberg, finally in for the ineffective Anthony Duclair, was able to park the rebound in the back of the net at the 6:13 mark.
The Cats finished the period strong, taking control of play, but were unable to forge ahead.
That would come back to bite them 97 seconds into the third. The Capitals qucikly established possession in Florida’s end and after receiving a pass from defense partner Trevor van Riemsdyk, Justin Schultz sent the puck towards the net. Niklas Backstrom bulled by MacKenzie Weegar and was able to deflect the puck over Bobrovsky’s waiting glove for the go-ahead goal. Fine piece of work by Backstrom.
Florida would answer the bell for the second time 6:51 later with a touch pass by Verhaeghe sending Ekblad and Giroux away with speed and space down the right side. Ekblad backhanded the puck over to Giroux and he beat Samsonov five-hole with a wrist shot from the circle to tie the tilt.
CLAUDE GIROUX TIES IT— Nasty Knuckles (@NastyKnuckles) May 14, 2022
“How’s that for leadership” pic.twitter.com/24xNSXtW4B
The Panthers kept coming and would finally seize the lead with 6:43 left in regulation. After Gustav Forsling missed the net, Verhaeghe teed up Weegar for a slap shot that Samsonov stopped. Giroux dug out the rebound and sent it left to Barkov, who easily found the yawning net for his second postseason goal.
SASHA BARKOV GIVES US THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/iU6o78LkgY— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) May 14, 2022
Florida seemed on their way to the next round until the Capitals pulled Samsonov and starting applying extreme pressure. The Cats didn’t handle this well and started to collectively wilt in a series of bad decisions and weaks clears, This ultimately led to Forsling tripping Backstrom at 18:51.
The deserved call put the home team two men up and they came up with a crazy goal six seconds later to delay the Panthers party. The play started with Backstrom easily beating Giroux in the left dot. John Carlson sent the puck over to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who threw towards the net and T.J. Oshie deflected it off Bobrovsky’s blocker. Anthony Mantha deflected the rebound out of the air and hit the cross bar. Oshie then deflected aarial rebound number two, putting a ton of back spin on the puck, which dropped and looked to hit Oshie’s knee before finding paydirt. I watched the replay of this goal multiple times and it looks like physics was pushed to it’s limits. Unreal...
The game went to overtime, where the Comeback Cats have excelled all season, and well, see above.
Despite nary a power-play goal, the Panthers advanced for the first time since 1996 when they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 at Civic Arena on June 1 of the Year of the Rat. They meet the winner of tonight’s Game 7 ( TNT, 7 p.m.) between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Stars & Stripes
- Only three players (with three) in NHL history have scored more overtime goals than Carter Verhaeghe’s two in a single playoff year: Mel “Sudden Death” Hill (1939 Boston Bruins), Maurice Richard (1951 Montreal Canadiens) and Corey Perry (2017 Anaheim Ducks). Verhaeghe became the 12th player in NHL history and fourth since 2002 to notch the game-winning goal in three straight playoff games. Only one player has done it in four games in a row: Clark Gillies (1977 New York Islanders).
- Sergei Bobrovsky finished with 34 saves to backstop the Cats to the Game 6 clincher, while Ilya Samsonov stopped 27 of 31 in a losing effort.
- T.J. Oshie had a huge series, leading the Capitals with six goals and seven points. The Panthers did a great job limiting Alex Ovechkin. The Great 8 totaled six points, but just one goal.
- The Panthers went a dreadful 0-for-18 on the power play during the six-game set. This needs to get sorted out in time for the next round. It was ugly. Real ugly.
- Not sure why Claude Giroux wasn’t named Second Star instead of Aleksander Barkov, but it doesn’t really matter. Giroux scored a goal, added two primary helpers, was credited with three hits and went +2 in a standout performance.
- For more on the final game of this hard-fought series head over to Japers’ Rink.