Verhaeghe Scores OT Winner As Cats Take 2-0 Series Lead

Panthers tampa playoff

SUNRISE, FL – It wouldn’t be a Florida Panthers postseason run without a stress-inducing overtime period, and the Cats came out on top as they beat Tampa Bay by a score of 3-2, taking a demanding 2-0 playoff series lead over the Lightning in the process.

Even without Ryan Lomberg, who sat this game out with an illness, the Cats turned up the physicality to 11 as they got out to an early 2-0 lead and looked to cruise along.

Tampa didn’t let this slide in the second period as they quickly tied things up, and the remainder of regulation was missed opportunities and masterclass goalie performances before we all realized that 60 minutes was not enough to decide a winner.

Last season, Florida went 7-0 in playoff games that went into overtime. Their success rate is defined mainly by Carter Verhaeghe’s ability in OT, and he came up clutch once more on the biggest stage to secure another win over the Bolts.

“I don’t think it’s (Patience in OT) something that you teach,” said head coach Paul Maurice postgame. “If you have an understanding of what your game looks like, you’ve got something you can hold on to… the style that we’re supposed to play. You’ve got a bunch of guys who’ve scored overtime goals. Why wouldn’t Carter Verhaeghe go out there without going “There’s a pretty good chance I score an overtime goal?” It’s happened before.”

The Start We Like To See

The Panthers landed 13 shots on goal, while they held Tampa to only three. There’s your story for the first period.

Florida’s success on offense came just about seven minutes in when a barrage of shots in front of Tampa’s net caused Andrei Vasilevskiy to dive to his right, while Sam Bennett nailed a backhander to his left for the first fireworks of the game.

The thing is, Tampa saw something that they’d try to expose with a challenge. They believed Florida committed goalie interference on Matthew Tkachuk, however, the challenge was unsuccessful. Outside of being out of the goalie area, it looked like Tkachuk was pushed into Vasilevskiy.

Losing a challenge in the NHL is especially costly, as the Lightning were hit with a delay of game penalty, even though Florida was ultimately unsuccessful as they only recorded one shot on goal during the penalty.

After a cross-checking penalty on Sam Bennett was killed off, the Lightning committed a tripping penalty that sent them back once more. Their time to get shots on Sergei Bobrovsky was extremely limited due to having to fend off Florida’s power play.

Unlike the first penalty, the Cats came out swinging with shots on goal, getting multiple good looks. With seconds to spare in the penalty, Vladimir Tarasenko capitalized on a deflection for a snap shot that found the back of the net, doubling up Florida’s score.

A Tale Of Two Halves

The second period turned into a nightmare scenario for Florida. They entered it with a massive advantage on their end, but it only took Tampa Bay nearly six minutes to equalize the game. Their first goal came off a tip-in with less than a minute into the period, then the second was redeemed off of a goalkeeper interference call on Verhaeghe, with a slap-shot goal only 32 seconds later.

After that, both teams were called for a penalty but neither team’s defense budged. Things got testy with minutes to go, with Bobrovsky forced to make some miraculous saves in the process, but the Cats couldn’t answer in the second.

The third period was also based on stellar defense by both sides. Florida was put to the test off a four-minute double-minor high-sticking call on Eetu Loustarinen, but the Cat’s solid penalty kill did their job.

An interference call on the Bolts gave Florida man advantage for all of four seconds before a slashing call on Verhaeghe brought us back to square one.

Along the way, Bob made one of the more miraculous saves of his career as he dove midair with a backhanded reach on an otherwise empty portion of the net, absolutely robbing Tampa of the go-ahead goal.

Ultimately, three periods of work were not enough for both teams as they entered the first overtime period of this series.

More Of The Same For The Cats

This is nothing new for Florida. As mentioned earlier, the Cats tend to play their best hockey in extra periods, though they usually tend to get their game-winners at the latter end of a period.

This time, all it took was just under three minutes. Following a rush to the net that consisted of both Cats and Bolts, Verhaeghe kept his composure, skated right by Vasilevskiy who reacted with a premature dive, and Verhaeghe responded by sending a shot to the top of the net for the game-winner.

So, the Panthers upgraded their physicality in this game but downgraded their cleanliness. To be specific, they delivered 65 hits on the Bolts. While Tampa still was credited with 56, it’s nice to see the Cats distance themselves from the Lightning in this category.

On the other hand, this game turned into a mud fight in the second and third periods, with Florida committing five penalties, and having to serve 12 minutes in the box as a result. Granted, their penalty kill makes up for this, but it’s still worth noting nonetheless.

Some other unfortunate news is that Sam Bennett, who recorded a goal and assist tonight, left the game early with an apparent upper-body injury, and did not return following the first intermission. Coach Maurice couldn’t provide a status update on his condition.

Now both teams will head north to Tampa to continue the series, with the Cats having a chokehold on the series. Game three is this Thursday, April 25th, at 7 pm.

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