Carter Verhaeghe was part of the Tampa Bay Lightning when they won the Stanley Cup in 2020 but due to the deep lineup his team possessed, he did not play a whole lot.
When the Lightning beat the Dallas Stars in Game 6 in that empty Edmonton arena, Verhaeghe was not in the lineup.
A few weeks later, he signed a contract with the Florida Panthers.
It is a decision that has paid dividends for both sides ever since.
On Monday night, Verhaeghe had his biggest game in the NHL yet as he opened the scoring for the Panthers — and then evened their best-of-7 series with the Washington Capitals by scoring in overtime to hand his team a hard-fought 3-2 win.
It was a big night a long time in the making.
“I mean, it was great,” Verhaeghe said after the game. “I am happy we won the game and we can go home, play in front of our home fans and compete again with the series tied. It’s a best-of-3 now and we have home ice advantage again.”
The Panthers had scouted Verhaeghe for some time, his big season with AHL Syracuse in 2019 opening up a lot of eyes.
He made the Lightning that following season and was in and out of the rotation as a bottom-six forward with the team.
In the playoffs, he had two assists in eight games — two against Columbus, one versus Boston, two against the Islanders and three in the Final.
The Lightning, under a serious cap crunch, had a lot of tough decisions to make. It simply could not afford to offer Verhaeghe a qualifying offer so, he became a free agent.
“He can play up-and-down the lineup with some upside,” GM Bill Zito said then.
“That was something that we targeted. Our scouts worked very hard and spent a lot of hours looking for younger talent who might have some upside, might be buried, might be behind opportunities in the clubs they were on.
“We’re real excited to see what he can do and give him some opportunity to grow.”
Grow he has.
In his first season with the Panthers, he scored 18 goals with 36 points; he had 24 goals with 55 points this season. Last summer, the team signed him to a three-year contract extension.
That has paid off as well.
In these playoffs, he leads the Panthers with three goals in four games.
Upside? Yes indeed.
”Swaggy means so much to our team, just the pace he plays with every night and he is just so tenacious on pucks,” Andrew Brunette said. “He doesn’t always get rewarded for how many chances he creates. Even tonight, it was like ‘come on Sway, do this one time’ and he got two unbelievable goals for us.
”Really happy for him, as I said, just a big part and he works so hard and brings so much energy to our group.”
On Monday night, the Panthers found themselves down 1-0 in the first period after a deflected puck found its way past Sergei Bobrovsky.
But with 5:52 remaining in the period, Aaron Ekblad and Verhaeghe got loose on a 2-on-1 rush while the Panthers were on a 4-on-4 chance.
With some extra space on the ice, the Panthers win that battle.
Ekblad came up the ice and passed to Verhaeghe who stuffed it past goalie Ilya Samsonov to tie things up.
The game stayed that way for a while despite the Panthers outplaying the Caps throughout the second period.
In the third, Washington retook the lead when Sam Bennett was blasted off the puck on a high shoulder hit to the head from T.J. Oshie.
That allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to come down on the rush and beat Bobrovsky.
Florida pulled its goalie with 3:05 left and the Capitals almost put one in the empty net. Only the Panthers set up in their zone with Sam Reinhart scoring in the slot with 2:04 left to tie the score and force overtime.
And that’s where Verhaeghe became a Panthers hero.
Monday night, he became just the fourth player in franchise history to win a playoff game in overtime joining Mike Hough (Game 5 of 1996 conference semis vs. Philadelphia), Dave Lowry (Game 4 of 1996 conference semis) and Ryan Lomberg (Game 3 in 2021).
”Winning in overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs just feels amazing,” captain Sasha Barkov said. “But it’s only one win. We evened the series so we’re happy but we have to keep working.”
NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
PANTHERS V. CAPITALS (TIED 2-2)
- Game 5: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN2
- Radio: WQAM 560 (Miami/Fort Lauderdale); WMEN 640 (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3 (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
PANTHERS V. CAPITALS
- Regular season series — Florida won 2-1: @Florida 5, Washington 4 OT (Nov. 4); @Washington 4, Panthers 3 (Nov. 26); @Florida 5, Washington 4 (Nov. 30)
- All-time regular season series: Capitals lead 67-44-11, 9 ties
- Playoff history: First meeting
- First-round schedule — Game 1: Washington 4, @Florida 2; Game 2: @Florida 5, Washington 1; Game 3: @Washington 6, Florida 1; Game 4: Florida 3, @Washington 2 (OT); Game 5: Washington at Florida, Wednesday, 7:30 (ESPN2/BSF); Game 6: Florida at Washington, Friday (Time, National TV TBA); Game 7*: Washington at Florida, Sunday. *If necessary