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2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Believe: Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins Headed to Game 7

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The Florida Panthers celebrate their Game 6 win against the Boston Bruins on Friday night in Sunrise. The Panthers are tied 3-3 in their series with Game 7 on Sunday at 6:30 at Boston Garden. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers have an arena on the edge of the Everglades. It has been loud before, but few remember it rocking the way it was during the third period of Game 6 against the Boston Bruins.

Florida captain Sasha Barkov has been here since 2013. When he started, the arena was such a ghost town for Panthers games, the new ownership decided it to be best to just block off portions of the upper deck with curtains.

It has been hopping in Sunrise for some time, but nothing like Friday night.

Barkov has now been part of five playoff series in Sunrise and says he never heard anything like that, in this building, before.

“I couldn’t really hear anything in my head for like the last 20 minutes,’’ Barkov said after a rousing 7-5 win over the Bruins.

“It was insane. It was awesome. Awesome to be a part of.”

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The Panthers almost blew the roof off their building on Friday night in a wild back-and-forth third period against the Bruins.

Florida was playing for its season — and doing so against the best regular-season team the NHL has ever seen.

While some Panthers talk about how some thought they would be swept, many hockey experts expected a pretty good series between these two teams.

But this?

The Panthers were down 3-1 in this series to the top-seeded Bruins before winning in Boston on Wednesday. By virtue of Friday night’s win, there will now be a Game 7 that, as Matthew Tkachuk so sagely noted, Boston wanted no part of.

Now, the Bruins have it.

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Florida has a chance to not only make some noise but perhaps some history come Sunday night (6:30 p.m., TNT/Bally Sports) in Boston.

The talk about Sunday and what the Panthers can accomplish against the Bruins will be discussed later.

What the Panthers did on Friday is impressive enough on its own.

“The emotional swings get stronger and stronger as the series progresses,” coach Paul Maurice said. “I did not feel it on the bench. A part of it was the phenomenal crowd. It was electric from the start and the players feed on that. Certainly there was excitement when we tied it or got the lead, but the players have taken over the bench. This is their time. At no time did I think they needed me to pump their tires. They took over.”

Florida took a 3-2 lead into the third period of Game 6 before the Bruins quickly scored twice to take the lead and steal the momentum from the Panthers.

Each time the Bruins took the lead, the air was sucked out of their barn out in the sawgrass.

Yet, time and again, Florida came back and tied the score setting the Glades afire.

First it was Zac Dalpe, then Tkachuk.

Eetu Luostarinen gave the Panthers the lead for good with 5:38 remaining and Florida ended up holding on for dear life, their defensive play so gritty and solid one would be hard pressed to picture any Florida team in the past 20 years keeping Boston from scoring the game-tying goal.

“It was a battle. They scored, we scored and it was a big emotional swing,” Radko Gudas said. “Both teams wanted it. They are a great team and they just kept coming back. But so did we. It was a big game for us. We stuck with it, stuck with it. Everyone was a team player. Guys were willing to do the difficult thing, the hard things. We have been preparing for this all year. It’s do-or-die. I think we’re at our best when our backs are against the wall.”

In the past, Florida would have coughed up its slim lead and the game would have gone to overtime.

Instead, the team’s solid defense kept the hard-charging Bruins at bay. Then, Sam Reinhart threw up an incredible bankshot into an empty net with 28 seconds left to ice things, sending their arena into bedlam.

The distance? An estimated 173 feet off the wall.

Hope he called it.

A team which was on the verge of seeing its season end on Wednesday night is now headed back to Boston with the chance to do something truly amazing.

Tkachuk, who had two goals and an assist in the win, all but guaranteed his team would return to Boston for a winner-take-all showdown.

Some scoffed.

The Panthers believed.

“Down 3-1, we knew we had to get to Game 7 and there was no doubt in our minds we could get there,” Gudas said.

“We did not want to look ahead. We looked at Game 5, then Game 6. Now, it’s Game 7. We’re looking, like, 12 hours at a time. We have to prepare the best we can for the next game. There is no doubt in our system. Everyone is there for each other. If someone messes up, there are three or four others to pick up the slack.”

The truth is, few thought the mighty Bruins would lose two games in this series much less two straight.

Could they lose three consecutive games for just the second time in their historic season?

We are about to find out.

”All we care about is the win,” Barkov said, “and now we’re excited to go to Boston.”

The Panthers, who were part of Boston’s lone three-game losing streak this season back in January, are playing with house money.

All the pressure is on the Bruins now.

Game 7s are the best things in sport.

The Panthers have only played two of them in their history, winning in Pittsburgh to go to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final and losing to Adam Henrique and the New Jersey Devils in 2012.

They are fired up about a third chance at keeping their season alive. Josh Mahura said on Tuesday that his team had to win “three Game 7s” to continue playing.

The Panthers have one left.

“Everyone is thrilled about it,” Gudas said. “We’re looking forward to going to Boston and giving them our best.”

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
BOSTON BRUINS (ATL1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 7 (Series Tied 3-3)

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