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Cousins Unlikely Hero (Again) in Wild Florida Panthers Win

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Carter Verhaeghe, second from right, is congratulated by his Florida Panthers teammates after he scored the game-winning goal in overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SUNRISE — For the second straight home game, Nick Cousins found himself in the right place at the right time to score a clutch goal for the Florida Panthers.

With a minute remaining in Florida’s eventual 5-4 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cousins was wide open when Ivan Provorov fed him a juicy turnover in the slot.

He made the most of the chance, beating Spencer Martin top shelf with a quick wrist shot to help force overtime.

That allowed Carter Verhaeghe to score yet another winner.

“I was kind of lucky,” Cousins said. “I don’t think he got a lot of wood on it, so it came right to me, but those are the goals that happen with a minute left. It’s a big goal for our team.”

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This was not the first time Cousins described himself as “lucky” after a game-tying goal.

He picked up an errant bounce off of a stanchion that caught Seattle goalie Joey Daccord out of position and scored a near-empty net goal to score the game-winning goal against the Kraken on Oct. 28.

“Nick was described to me by another NHL coach as a jackknife,” coach Paul Maurice said.

“He will play all over the lineup, up and down, because he has really good hands and a good sense of the game. He maximizes those things. He gets around the ice, and if you can get it on a stick close to the front of the net, he usually makes good on it.”

But this was a game the Panthers really should not have needed to be lucky in.

Florida pulled to a 3-0 lead just over six minutes into the first period.

Columbus opted to replace goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, who had allowed three goals on 11 shots to that point, out for Martin after Sasha Barkov scored Florida’s third goal of the game 6:09 into the game.

The Panthers outshot Columbus 20-1 until they finally got on the board with 4:19 to go in the first period.

After that, however, the Panthers could not figure out Martin as he made 34 consecutive saves before Cousins scored the tying goal.

Thanks to Martin, the Blue Jackets got back into the game.

“I think in the first period, we came out real strong as a team, and then after they switched goals, they turned the momentum in their favor,” Cousins said.

“Got to give them credit. They turned the page and took it to us pretty good. That’s a good team over there.”

Just over three minutes after Sean Kuraly stuffed in an Erik Gudbranson rebound to get Columbus on the board, Boone Jenner ripped a wrist shot glove side on Sergei Bobrovsky to bring the Blue Jackets within a goal with 1:09 to go in the opening frame.

Kirill Marchenko beat Bobrovksy five hole on the power play 10:02 into the second period to even the score.

The Blue Jackets cleaned up their defensive play in front of Martin, blocking 12 shots in the second period after blocking just three in the first.

“I think that’s where it changes for us,” Maurice said.

“Part of it is that you get all of these offensive chance and you have some guys squeezing it a little around the net, especially when we stop moving our feet.

“When you get those shots blocked, you start to feel the fact you had a 3-0 lead and you had very little going against you and then you get a little tight.”

Alexandre Texier put the Blue Jackets ahead 4-3 with 7:30 to go in the game and things looked dire to Florida.

That’s where Cousins’ heroics came in.

“They start seeing the breaks and they have 10 that aren’t going and then they have one that ends up in the back of your net, but they kept going,” Maurice said.

“When the goalie comes out and you get that many chances, that’s sometimes what you need. You need somebody that doesn’t normally get out there to score to come up, and we got a break, and that’s in the back of the net.”

Verhaeghe scored the overtime winner 1:26 into the extra frame, finishing off a cross-crease feed from Anton Lundell to give Florida its third-straight home victory.

The goal broke a four-game drought for Verhaeghe, who scored 42 goals last season.

”It’s awesome,” Verhaeghe said. “It’s always good to put the puck in the back of the net. It’s good for the confidence and I think there’s obviously some things to work on. Getting pucks through and to the net quicker, but that’s nice.”

PANTHERS ON DECK

 FLORIDA PANTHERS @ WASHINGTON CAPITALS

  • When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.
  • TV/Streaming: TNT/HBO Max
  • Radio: WAXY 790-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932; NHL/Panthers App
  • Last Season: Panthers won 3-0
  • This Season: @Washington Wednesday; @Florida Feb. 8, Feb. 24 
  • All-time regular season series: Washington leads 67-46-12, 9 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Friday vs. Carolina, 7 p.m.
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