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Carter Verhaeghe Makes Impact in Return to Florida Panthers Lineup



Florida Panthers bennett tkachuk
Florida Panthers center Carter Verhaeghe (23), celebrates scoring his team's first goal with teammates, left wing Matthew Tkachuk (19) and center Sam Bennett (9), during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

SUNRISE — Coming off of a six-game absence due to an injury, Carter Verhaeghe gave the Florida Panthers a boost they very much needed.

In the first shift of the second period, Verhaeghe blasted off a one-timer, picked up his own rebound and beat Joseph Woll to bring the Panthers within a goal of the Toronto Maple Leafs 28 seconds in.

As it turned out, that was all Florida needed to turn the tide and walk away with a 5-2 win.

“It just changes the way we look,” coach Paul Maurice said of Verhaeghe’s. “That line looks real fast.

“You want your A players back in the lineup, right? It gives you an idea of what you’re going to look like so that line starts the second period, scores the goal and that’s the line that got us going. … We missed him for those six games, but now it’s a benefit. He had six game worth of rest going into the playoffs. So he’s good.”

As it turned out, that was the difference between how the Panthers looked in the first and second period — and on a larger scale — how they looked when Verhaeghe was not in the lineup over the past six games.

They did just fine in those six games, going 4-1-1 and winning the last four, but they were much slower offensively.

Verhaeghe helps provide that kick.

“I liked tonight’s game especially because the first period was similar to [our play] over the last month. It was just OK. It was pretty good, but we were down a couple,” Maurice said.

“The second period was the first time in a while that we looked the way we’re supposed to look. And you can feel it. It was more than just the way we looked. You can feel it on the bench and the energy level on the bench and that’s a good way to go into the playoffs coming off, not the win, but the style of hockey that you’ll want to play and say ‘OK, it’s there.’”

When Verhaeghe was sidelined with the upper-body injury on April 1, it was expected he would be out for the remainder of the regular season.

But after he returned to practice on Monday, he felt good enough to play and he wanted to with the Atlantic Division title on the line.

“I wanted to play,” Verhaeghe said. “I always want to play. It sucks watching the guys battle on the sidelines. I felt good yesterday, felt good this morning, so I decided I might as well play.”

Verhaeghe was the catalyst in helping the Panthers win that title in a lot of ways.

On top of his goal 28 seconds into the second period, Verhaeghe helped get things going on Florida’s tying goal 10 minutes later.

He bursted into the offensive zone with speed and slid the puck over to Matthew Tkachuk to set up the play.

Tkachuk passed the puck to Gus Forsling, whose shot was deflected by Sam Bennett, and just like that the game was tied.

“Any time you put it in the net, it feels good,” Verhaeghe said. “I just wanted to come back, feel good and get my game ready for the playoffs. It felt good to get one more game in than I thought before.”

Verhaeghe’s stat line may only say one goal, but his return meant more than that.

He got the team going on their first two goals and his presence helped set the tone for the team’s style of play thereafter.

Sam Reinhart gave Florida the lead 10 seconds later, the team dominated play after that and they walked away Atlantic Division champions.

“Our whole energy was better in the second,” Sam Bennett said. “We came out flying. We started making plays and skating and [Verhaeghe’s goal] changed everything.”

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