The Florida Panthers have made it past the first round only three times in their 30-year franchise history.
Carter Verhaeghe is responsible for two of them via series-clinching overtime winners.
The speedy winger already etched his place in Panthers’ lore with a six-goal, 12-point performance capped off with a Game 6 overtime winner to end the team’s 26-year series-winning drought against the Washington Capitals last spring.
Apparently he was not done yet.
Verhaeghe wired a wrist shot into traffic 8:35 into overtime to defeat the record-breaking Boston Bruins in Game 7.
“If I knew how he does it, I would do it too” Panthers captain Sasha Barkov joked.
“We’ve seen what he did last year and he did it again this year. He had the assist on [Matthew Tkachuk’s Game 5 overtime winner] and in Game 7 he scored the winning goal.
“Go ask him and if you find out, tell me.”
Verhaeghe would not admit it — he would rather sing the praises of the rest of his teammates — but the moment is never too big for him.
The mixture of speed and fight to his game combined with his cool, calm and collected attitude are what make Verhaeghe so great in those moments.
Top that off with one of the most dangerous wrist shots in the league and he is a bonafide superstar.
“I think Carter is just coming into the true confidence of a shooter,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said after he hit 30 goals. “He understands, and it has taken some time, that he is the shooter on the ice and he should not be deferring. If it is on his stick, we want that shot first. He is going to score a whole lot of goals.
“There are guys who score 20 or 30 and you think ‘oh, they got lucky. That’s not happening again.’ I think the opposite for him is true. He has missed a whole lot of chances that I think are going to start going when that true confidence comes in.”
That confidence was exactly what Florida needed to take down arguably the greatest regular-season team in NHL history.
The Bruins set records for wins (65) and points (135) with a balanced attack with no clear Achilles’ heel but the Panthers just kept looking for it.
Florida was on the receiving end of an upset like this last year when they were swept in Round 2 by the Tampa Bay Lightning after winning the Presidents’ Trophy.
And the locker room remembered that.
They saw how the Lightning played when they took them down and knew everyone had to contribute in order to slay the dragon.
And they did.
“We went into it day-by-day and obviously they had a crazy regular season but the playoffs are completely different,” Verhaeghe said.
“We had a crazy regular season last year and it did not amount to anything. It feels good but we have another round to focus on.”
And, of course, Verhaeghe was the closer for them yet again.
His calm nature and demeanor set the standard for the Panthers and the rest of the team followed him out there as they completed the series comeback in overtime.
“We are relaxed, we are not gripping our sticks too tight and we’re just trying to make some plays,” Verhaeghe said.
“We play to win, not to lose.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (ATL2) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
- TV/Streaming: ESPN, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- First Round Schedule — Game 1: Tuesday at Toronto, 7 (ESPN); Game 2: Thursday, TBA; Remainder of Schedule: TBA.
- How They Got Here: Toronto d. Tampa Bay 4-2; Florida d. Boston 4-3
- Season Series (Toronto won 3-1): Maple Leafs 5, @Panthers 4 OT (Jan. 17); @Maple Leafs 6, Panthers 2 (Mar. 23); Panthers 3, @Maple Leafs 2 OT (March 29); Maple Leafs 2, @Panthers 1 OT (April 10)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time Regular Season Series: Toronto leads 48-36-7, 7 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting