Cats Fall to Canes, Will Face Boston in Stanley Cup Playoffs

Cats Canes Playoff Boston

Sunrise, FL – On a dark, rainy afternoon at the FLA Live Arena, the playoff-bound Florida Panthers looked to end the regular season on a high note, but the visiting Carolina Hurricanes had other plans.

The Canes dominated the puck throughout most of the game while maintaining a steady two-goal lead. Even when the Cats tied the game up in the third period, it didn’t take long for Carolina to bounce back and match Florida. After eight combined goals scored in the final period, the visiting team walked away with a 6-4 win.

With the loss, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are set for the Eastern Conference. The Panthers will play the Boston Bruins in the first round. The Bruins finished the regular season with a record of 65-12-5… the most wins in a single season in NHL history.

Rain Rain Go Away

Despite all the hype entering the Carolina matchup, the Panthers already clinched a playoff spot a couple of days ago when the New Jersey Devils beat the Buffalo Sabres and the Chicago Blackhawks downed the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Still, the Canes game determined seeding. Had the Panthers won, there could have been a chance of a rematch with Carolina in the opening round.

It helps that Florida got hot at the right time, winning six consecutive games prior to a loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes have been sitting pretty atop the Metropolitan Division with a record of 51-21-9, though they struggled as of late, losing three of their last five games.

Not a Storm, Just a Sprinkle

Most of Florida’s success lately can be attributed to their young goalkeeper Alex Lyon, who has played the best stretch of hockey in his career in the midst of Sergei Bobrovsky’s injury. But Lyon was put to the test early as only seven seconds in, Florida was called for a tripping penalty, giving Carolina the advantage.

Still, the Cats ability to kill the power play was very solid, limiting the damage. The majority of the first period was a defensive stalemate between the two teams, but the Canes edged out Florida with the shots on goal.  A rare occurrence for the Panthers at home.

Carolina got on the board first eight minutes in. After a faceoff in Cats territory, a quick pass to defenseman Brent Burns became the perfect setup for a longshot strike that flew by Alex Lyon into the net for a quick 1-0 lead.

That was all the scoring for the first period. This has become a growing trend for the Panthers as of late, having to fight back entering the next frame.

Wind’s Howling, a Storm’s Brewing

The second period began with a bang in Carolina’s favor. Just a minute in, a Florida turnover on their side of the ice set up center Jesperi Kotkaniemi for another long-range wrister that Lyon couldn’t track due to traffic in front, doubling Carolina’s lead to 2-0. Once more, a stalemate on offense limited Florida from responding for 19 minutes.

In the third period, the Cats offense woke up and provided some necessary life to the team, ironically on Fan Appreciation Night. The captain, Aleksander Barkov, capitalized off a breakaway from Radko Gudas with a snipe that finally got by Carolina’s goalie, Frederik Andersen.

For the first time in the game, the fans at the FLA Live Arena had something to cheer for. It also helped that the Panthers doubled down only a couple of minutes later. After a missed shot at the net, Anderson tried to pass the puck away, but it was intercepted by Gudas. He quickly passed it to Ryan Lomberg who was right in front of the net shooting it home for the equalizer.

Finally, the Panthers had some momentum. However, Florida could not benefit from the referees. A couple minutes later, a controversial moment in the game occurred when an apparent tripping call on the Canes off a Cats breakaway was not called, much to the ire of the fans.

To add insult to injury, Carolina’s Brent Burns collected another goal off a long-range bullet that Lyon couldn’t find due to four different players in front of him. The Hurricanes regained the lead.

On top of that, Carolina struck again 21 seconds later. Florida’s defense had to block a few shots as the Canes kept cooking on offense, but right-wing Jesper Fast broke through off a simple wrist shot to double up once more with 14 minutes to go.

How the game ended with three minutes left was nothing short of pandemonium. After a tripping call on Barkov, the Canes scored an empty netter right after the power play concluded for some insurance. Turns out they needed it, as Florida netted two straight scores from Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe to cut the lead down to 5-4.

However, another empty netter by Carolina, courtesy of center Sebastian Aho, put the game away. While both offenses seemed like they were just heating up, the time finally ran out and the Canes emerged victorious 6-4.

Stats for the Storm Drain

Carolina actually edged out Florida in the shots on goal category 36-34. A rarity for games at the FLA Live Arena, it proves how the Canes dominated on offense. Still, the Panthers were the bullies of the game with 31 hits compared to 36 by the Hurricanes.

Now for the most interesting stat of the night. There were six power-play opportunities for both teams combined, but neither team actually scored a power-play goal in the contest. Florida specifically racked up four penalties worth 20 penalty minutes.

Four different Panthers players scored goals, but Radko Gudas cashed in with three assists. Alex Lyon, who was on a hot streak prior to this game, recorded 30 saves but still gave up four goals.

That’s it for the regular season. For what it’s worth, Matthew Tkachuk has got to be the team MVP. He led the club in both total points and assists, with 109 and 69, respectively. Meanwhile, Carter Verhaeghe was the team’s leading goal-scorer with 42 on the year.

It’s time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Florida will face the Boston Bruins, arguably the best team in hockey. Game One will begin on Monday, April 17th, with Game Two on the following Wednesday. Both games will be played at the TD Garden in Boston, then the series will head to Sunrise for games three and four, with the dates yet to be determined.

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