The Florida Panthers were down to desperation time late in Game 4 on Monday night, coach Andrew Brunette pulling goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and leaving the net open with more than three minutes remaining.
Trailing by a goal, the Panthers could not afford to lose this game and come home on the brink of elimination.
Sam Reinhart helped stave that situation off for a while, tying the score with 2:04 minutes remaining in regulation.
Then in overtime, it was Carter Verhaeghe scoring to lift the Panthers to a 3-2 victory and even the series up at two games apiece with Game 5 in Sunrise on Wednesday night.
”It was kind of crazy,’’ Verhaeghe said. “We tied it up late there, we made a couple of good plays and had one shot in overtime. We were lucky we got that one first.”
Florida was the better team for much of the night but it took Reinhart’s big goal from the slot with an empty net behind him to give the Panthers an opportunity for what could be a series-changing win.
With Florida winning, neither team has won consecutive games in this series; the Panthers have won both even-number games.
The Panthers gave up another power play goal to the Caps in the first period as Washington took the 1-0 lead on another T.J. Oshie deflection — this one off the stick of John Carlson.
Florida was able to find a little more space with the puck in this game and ended up tying the score on a 4-on-4 chance as Aaron Ekblad found Verhaeghe for his first of the night on a 2-on-1 rush at 14:08.
The Panthers went into the second period holding an 11-7 shot advantage as they were very aggressive by forcing four turnovers in the first.
Florida found itself on the kill again early in the second when Ben Chiarot — who saved a goal on a nice play late in the first — was called for a delay after clearing the puck around the end boards.
The Panthers’ kill was spectacular in the second as they killed off three penalties in the period including a 43-second 5-on-3 chance when Sergei Bobrovsky was somehow called for tripping.
Washington’s kill did a good job on the Panthers as they went 0-3 in the period as well. Although Florida was much more cohesive on the power play on Monday night, the results were not there again as the Panthers went into the third period tied — and 0-13 on the power play in the series.
Florida was dominant 5-on-5, with 1 14-2 shot attempt advantage in the second; the Panthers also outshot the Capitals 8-1 when it came to their three power play chances.
The two teams played a tight third period with neither team able to get much going in the offensive zone.
Midway through the period, Sam Bennett was blasted off the puck on a high shoulder hit to the head from Oshie, allowing Evgeny Kuznetsov to break loose and beat Sergei Bobrovsky who went low to try and stop the shot.
Oshie may be fined (the max is $5,000), but he will not mind in the least as the score stayed that way until Brunette pulled Bobrovsky with three-plus minutes.
The Capitals came thisclose to making it 3-1 with the empty net, but Florida was able to win the ensuing faceoff, control the puck deep and get the Reinhart goal to tie things up and force the extra session.
“Those are the kind of situations you want to be in as a hockey player,’’ Reinhart said.
“It’s a game that can really go either way at the end of it. We stuck with it. We’re happy with the result and obviously a much better feeling going back home 2-2, as opposed to 3-1.”
GR’S THREE STARS OF GAME 4
1. Carter Verhaeghe, Florida
2. Sam Reinhart, Florida
3. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida
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