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Despite OT Loss to Leafs, Florida Panthers Control Playoff Destiny

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Florida panthers playoff
Florida Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour celebrates his third period goal with his teammates in an eventual 2-1 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs on Monday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

SUNRISE — With a win on Monday night, the Florida Panthers could have clinched themselves a third consecutive playoff berth.

As the Panthers were going at it with the Maple Leafs, the New York Islanders were unexpectedly getting skunked by the Capitals.

Only Ilya Samsonov got his Washington Revenge on Monday night as the former Capitals goalie — who got knocked out by the Panthers last spring — made 46 saves in what turned out to be a 2-1 overtime win for the Maple Leafs.

The Panthers will have to wait another day to make the postseason.

But all is not lost, not even close.

”We got some help and we are still in it,’’ captain Sasha Barkov said. “We are going to stay strong, keep battling.”

While the Penguins are feeling pretty good about themselves after what transpired on Monday night, Florida can still not only make the playoffs, but be the top wild card in the Eastern Conference.

All they have to do is beat the Carolina Hurricanes at home on Thursday.

It will not come easy, that is for sure.

But it certainly beats the alternative.

“Five games ago, we hoped we would make that last game and have a chance,’’ coach Paul Maurice said.

“We have earned a two-day block of rest before the biggest game of the year. Now we can say it is the biggest game of the year.’’

The Panthers have come a long way since March 27 when they lost their fourth consecutive game in Ottawa.

Since then, Alex Lyon has helped Florida resurect its season as he was good again in making his seventh consecutive start.

Since taking over for Sergei Bobrovsky due to an illness, Lyon has kept the job due to his play.

Again on Monday, Lyon surrendered just one goal in regulation — a deflected Auston Matthews job that he got a piece of — as he gave the Panthers a chance to win the game.

“My philosophy is, bring your best and let the chips fall where they may,’’ said Lyon, who said he will take Tuesday’s off day to get some sleep. He is expected to be back in net Thursday for the finale.

“If we bring that, we have nothing to be disappointed about. If we bring it again like that, it’s going to make a success more than not. It was a massive point for us. It was a massive goal by Monty. Again, the boys played so well today and made my job simple. It’s a credit to them.”

Florida panthers playoff

Florida was down 1-0 going into the third period as Toronto and Samsonov smothered them and took away too many scoring chances.

But midway through, Carter Verhaeghe raced through the zone with the puck, spotted Brandon Montour trailing and fed him for a nice one-timer which tied the score at 1 and ultimately got the Panthers a point in the standings.

Florida brought it all in the overtime session as both Lyon and Samsonov made a couple of big point-blank saves.

But in the final minute, John Tavares burned Florida once again with the overtime goal which kept the Panthers from clinching.

“We have all the confidence in this lineup,’’ Montour said. “It would have been nice to get that extra point, but we can’t dwell on that right now. We recover these next two days, and we come play hard against Carolina here at home and see what we can do.”

One thing the Panthers all stressed is if they come out on Thursday and play the way they did against Toronto, they will be fine.

It is hard to argue that sentiment.

The Panthers came out hard against the Leafs but simply could not get anything past Samsonov.

In the third, the Maple Leafs locked things down and it pretty much became a game in which the 3-on-3 or a shootout exhibition would decide things.

Florida, again, had its chances in overtime and went hard at it.

The Panthers get one more kick at it on Thursday night.

“We obviously did not get the goals but that was exactly the way we want to play,’’ Barkov said.

“We want to come out as hard as possible. I am happy with the way we played but two points would have been nicer. Toronto is a good team, obviously. They have a lot of firepower and we limited what they could do. It was quiet. We were good in the defensive zone. We just couldn’t finish it in overtime.”

PANTHERS ON DECK

CAROLINA HURRICANES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Last season: Florida won 3-0
  • This season (Series tied 1-1): Florida 3, Carolina 2 (Nov. 9); Carolina 4, Florida 0 (Dec. 30)
  • All-time regular season series: Carolina leads 70-46-10, 11 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: END OF REGULAR SEASON

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