May 21st, 2024

Verhaeghe scores OT winner, Bobrovsky makes some fantastic saves, and Panthers top Lightning 3-2

By Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press on April 23, 2024.

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) – Sergei Bobrovsky stopped a shot with his mask, then made a diving, no-look save that they’ll remember in Florida for a long time.

And Carter Verhaeghe made sure his goalie’s highlight-reel work came in a win.

Verhaeghe – making some history of his own – lifted a backhander just under the crossbar 2:59 into overtime, and the Florida Panthers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 on Tuesday night for a 2-0 lead in their NHL first-round playoff series.

“It just takes one shot in these moments,” Verhaeghe said.

He knows that better than most. Verhaeghe became the sixth player in NHL history with at least five overtime gamewinners. This one came on a play where Matthew Tkachuk got the puck to Anton Lundell – who found Verhaeghe. He waited for Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to commit, then put the puck over him to end it.

Sam Bennett, who left with an injury in the second period when he appeared to get hit by teammate Brandon Montour’s slap shot, and Vladimir Tarasenko scored for Florida. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 21 shots, including some highlight-reel saves.

Braden Point and Steven Stamkos scored for Tampa Bay, which got two assists from Victor Hedman. Vasilevskiy stopped 34 shots.

“Both goalies made some amazing saves,” Stamkos said. “Game could have ended a lot earlier, probably.”

Bobrovsky had two wild saves in the second period – one off his mask, the other a no-look dive that he got basically with his back to the play to deny Lightning defenseman Matt Dumba and preserve what was then a 2-2 tie.

And it stayed that way, all the way until the sudden end.

“It’s a big, big win for us,” Bobrovsky said.

It was 2-0 Florida after one, with Bennett scoring at 6:16 – the Lightning unsuccessfully challenged that goal for goaltender interference – and Tarasenko connecting nearly nine minutes later. The Panthers controlled the opening 15 minutes, just like they did in Game 1, outshooting the Lightning 12-1 and the two-goal lead held up going into the second period.

That’s when the Lightning – who boast a roster loaded with Stanley Cup hoisters – showed their postseason poise.

“Unfortunately for us, we’re finding ourselves behind in both games,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s a tough league to come back in, especially in the playoffs.

Point scored 48 seconds into the second to cut the lead in half. Stamkos – who was an inch away from a power-play tally in the opening period – got one at 5:48 of the second to tie the game. It was his patented one-timer, just like the one he took a period earlier that got past Bobrovsky’s glove but hit the goalpost with such force that the rebound skipped all the way out of the zone.

So, Florida had lost two things – the lead, and Bennett. He left early in the second period, seeming to hold his wrist, and went directly toward the Panthers’ locker room as soon as he got off the ice. He did not return, with the Panthers calling it an upper-body injury.

But the Panthers found a way to take a 2-0 lead, after going 2-8 in their two previous playoff series with their in-state rivals – who now head home needing to protect home ice.

“There’s a ton of resiliency in that group,” Cooper said.

UP NEXT

Game 3 is Thursday in Tampa.

___

AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

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