The Florida Panthers led the NHL with 4.11 goals scored per game during the regular season.
In the playoffs, the Panthers’ high-powered offense has mostly stalled, ranking just 12th out of 16 teams in goals (2.75). In addition, Florida’s power play has been absent in the playoffs (0-for-13), the only postseason team without one so far.
Yet, the top-seeded Panthers will host the eighth-seeded Washington Capitals on Wednesday night tied 2-2 in their best-of-seven, first-round playoff series.
The Panthers have had to rely on other parts of their game.
Florida’s 5-on-5 play, penalty-killing and goaltending were all factors in the Panthers’ 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Capitals in overtime Monday night.
With both teams at full strength, the Panthers had a 49-27 advantage in shots and a 21-14 edge in scoring chances. Florida’s penalty-killing unit went 4-for-5, thwarting a 5-on-3 Capitals advantage.
Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made just 14 saves, but five of them were classified as high danger. Perhaps Bobrovsky’s biggest stop was a game-saving breakaway on Marcus Johansson late in the third period.
“It’s huge having him back there,” Panthers forward Sam Reinhart said of Bobrovsky, who has set a Panthers record this season with 39 wins. “He gives us confidence to make plays.”
Reinhart made perhaps the biggest play of the game, tying the score 2-2 on his goal with 2:04 left in the third. The Panthers had pulled Bobrovsky for an extra attacker, resulting in Reinhart’s first career playoff goal.
“It was a bad bounce,” Capitals star winger Alex Ovechkin said of a Panthers pass that was broken up before landing on Reinhart’s stick. “We have to forget about it and move on.”
Carter Verhaeghe was Florida’s biggest hero of the night, scoring twice, including the winner with 4:57 elapsed in overtime.
Verhaeghe and Reinhart have much in common, including the fact that they both started their careers elsewhere and are having career seasons with the Panthers.
Verhaeghe, who broke into the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning, had career highs in goals (24) and assists (31) in the regular season. Reinhart, who broke into the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres, had career highs in goals (33) and assists (49).
Verhaeghe also has the distinction of becoming just the fourth player in franchise postseason history to score a game-winning goal in overtime, joining Mike Hough, Dave Lowry and Ryan Lomberg.
The Capitals, meanwhile, have been forced to play without injured forward Tom Wilson, who ranked fourth on the team with 52 points in 78 regular-season games.
“He is one of our leaders,” Ovechkin said of Wilson. “But it’s the playoffs. We have a lot of players who have taken his responsibility and are playing tough minutes.”
T.J. Oshie, with three goals in this series, and Evgeny Kuznetsov (two tallies) are among the Capitals players who have stepped up against the Panthers. Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are tied for the team lead with four assists each.
Defensively, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Nick Jensen and Martin Fehervary have been playing heavy minutes, and goalie Ilya Samsonov has been outstanding in his two starts, allowing four total goals.
“We’re now going to play a best-of-three,” Kuznetsov said. “There’s no panic. We still have a pretty good chance.”
–Field Level Media