SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers gave Carter Verhaeghe a nickname that sort of did not fit.
”Swaggy” is what Verhaeghe is called around the Panthers.
It was a take on his last name, sure, but his quiet demeanor and team-first attitude sort of belies the whole ‘swagger’ nickname.
Sort of like calling an tall, muscular person ‘Tiny.’
Verhaeghe now has a new moniker around the Panthers.
It appears to combine his ‘Swaggy’ nickname with one of reverence.
Mario Lemieux is, perhaps, the greatest scorer in hockey history.
A gold standard.
After the past couple games Carter Verhaeghe has had, coach Andrew Brunette has struggled to keep a straight face when talking about his red-hot winger.
Ask about Verhaeghe and usually, Brunette — and the rest of the Panthers — talk about ‘Swaggy.’
Following his past two games against the Washington Capitals, the Panthers are now calling him ‘Swagieux.’
Some thought it was a slip of the tongue, perhaps the name of a discount jarred tomato sauce on BOGO at Publix. A cut of beef?
They could have just called him Carter Ver-Gretzky the way he has been playing of late.
But ‘Swagieux’ works just fine.
“He is so important for our team,’’ Brunette said Wednesday, grinning like a guy with a secret, after Verhaeghe had another game which, based on the history of the Panthers’ organization, puts him in franchise lore.
“He is relentless for our team, comes back for pucks and is just relentless. He was on it tonight and he was so important to why we won. He always creates. He is finishing right now and the guys he is getting the puck to are finishing. He is the same Carter, the ‘Swaggy’ we always get but he is getting rewarded for it.”
Verhaeghe had perhaps one of the greatest nights in Florida Panthers’ history on Wednesday.
The Panthers found themselves down 3-0 early in the second period of a crucial Game 5 in Sunrise. Florida did not look dead, not by any means, but the clock was ticking down.
Verhaeghe — who, don’t forget, scored the game-winning goal in overtime to beat the Caps in Game 4 in Washington on Monday — got the Panthers’ first goal by tapping in a bank shot off the end boards from Sasha Barkov.
There was no way to know where this one was going.
Verhaeghe not only scored two goals, but he had the primary assists on the other three. He has 10 points in Florida’s five games this postseason. His five points is a Florida postseason record.
“I’m the guy right now,’’ he said, “but hopefully someone else will be the guy next game.”
If one could list the Three Stars of the Night for one person, it would have been Carter Verhaeghe at 1, 2 and 3.
“He has been the best player on the ice these two games,’’ said Patric Hornqvist, the beneficiary of a nice saucer pass from Verhaeghe to make it 3-2. “He makes it hard for their D. That is what we need him to do, and he has been stepping up huge for us. The goals tonight could not have come at a better time.”
It was a game of a lifetime not only for Verhaeghe (sorry, Swagieux) but for the Panthers.
Barkov, who along with Mason Marchment holds the franchise record with a six-point game, seemed quite impressed with the night his linemate had.
And, thankful as well.
”You saw what he did. He scored crucial goals and he played unreal and has been really good for us the whole series,” Barkov said. “I love seeing him do that. I am really happy for him. … I have seen (games like this) in highlights, but a huge game for him. He battled for us. Someone always steps up and it was him. Unbelievable player for us.”
On Monday night, Verhaeghe did not want to talk about his individual accolades.
Florida was down 1-0 in Game 4 when Verhaeghe got his first goal and, in overtime, he won the game by following up his own rebound.
Verhaeghe is not one to talk about himself and on Wednesday, he only wanted to talk about his team’s performance.
But, come on.
This was a game of a lifetime.
”Things are going well right now,” he said. “The team, we have two chances to win one game. Things are looking pretty good.”
Verhaeghe was pressed by a reporter, spelling out his accomplishments on Wednesday, punctuating it with ‘My God.’
Verhaeghe looked down and smiled.
“Sometimes, that’s what happens,” he said.
Come Friday night, the Panthers can win their first playoff series since 1996.
Verhaeghe had not yet celebrated his first birthday when Florida beat the Penguins in 7 games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final in its third year.
Mario Lemieux was on that Pittsburgh team 26 years ago.
Verhaeghe would like to help the Panthers make some new history.
”There’s a lot to build on,” he said. “We just need to press on.”
NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
PANTHERS V. CAPITALS (FLA leads 3-2)
- Game 6: Friday, 7:30
- Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, TBS
- 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: @Florida 5, Washington 3; Game 6: Florida at Washington, Friday (Time, National TV TBA); Game 7*: Washington at Florida, Sunday. *If necessary