Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice was asked what his first thought was when the horn sounded in Game 2 on Saturday night and his team was going into overtime against the Carolina Hurricanes once more.
“Not again,” he said.
Matthew Tkachuk seemed to be in a bit of a hurry this time around.
After the Panthers won a four-overtime marathon in Game 1, Tkachuk made sure his team didn’t have to wait as he buried a tic-tac-toe chance on the power play to not only give his team a 2-1 win, but control of this series as well.
It was quite apparent the Hurricanes did not want to lose on home ice again and have to travel to South Florida down 2-0, yet, here they are.
Florida is now two wins away from playing for the Stanley Cup and they have five games left in this series to try and do so.
Tkachuk was in such a hurry to get out of Raleigh, he shouted ‘bus in 10’ to teammates during the celebration as he rushed to the tunnel door in a drop-the-mic moment.
“It has been a lot of hockey the past two games,” said Tkachuk, who scored the winner in Game 1 with 12.7 seconds left in the fourth overtime at 1:54 a.m.
“It is great to celebrate with the guys in the locker room and it was just great to end that one early.”
The Panthers survived an early onslaught from Carolina as the Hurricanes completely dominated the first 16 or so minutes of the opening period.
But Florida, as it sometimes does, kept things close and got stronger as the game went along.
By the second period, the Panthers were more than just on even footing as they turned the game around — and tied the score at 1 on a fantastic goal from Sasha Barkov.
Barkov’s between-the-skates fake out of Antti Raanta will be seen for years to come and it gave the Panthers new life.
That game-tying goal was all Sergei Bobrovsky needed as he continued his fantastic run through these playoffs.
Since giving up the tying goal in the third period of Game 1, Bobrovsky has stopped 80 of 81 shots.
He has won seven of Florida’s eight consecutive road games and is 6-0 in overtime.
“He is just incredible,” Barkov said. “Every game, every day people are just talking about him and he deserves even more than that. He is our backbone and he has been giving us a chance to win every game. One-goal game, two-game, whatever. He is there for us, making a big save. He is having a lot of fun doing it. … We love him and he loves us and that is all that matters.”
Said Bobrovsky: “They have a great team, an unbelievable team. They are very structured and strong. I just want to thank God for his opportunity, this spot and this result. … This is the best time to play hockey and I am just hockey to be in the net for it.”
For the Panthers, staying close in games is nothing new to them.
Florida won two of its final three against Boston in overtime and every game save for the first against Toronto was a one-goal game.
The Panthers have only won comfortably this postseason and that was Game 2 in Boston.
For a team that was middle of the pack when it came to overtime wins during the regular season, this team is certainly on a roll now.
Since Game 5 in Boston, the Panthers have gone 6-0 in overtime.
“We have had a really good balance,” Maurice said. “Some of it is the underdog and this is the No. 2 team in the NHL. In a normal year when you don’t have (Boston) running 135 points, they may have been the No. 1 team in the NHL. When you get to overtime, you’re in your happy place now because one shot wins it. That sort of evens the playing field. One shot. You can go out and have some fun.”
Their eight-game road winning streak is second all-time only to the 10 won by the 2012 Los Angeles Kings.
Those Kings, with Florida assistant coach Jamie Kompon on Darryl Sutter’s staff, not only won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history that year but did so as the No. 8 seed.
Florida would not mind following the Kings into the history books.
That road now continues in Sunrise at FLA Arena on Monday night.
“I’m sure it’s going to be something I haven’t seen yet on Monday,” said Tkachuk, who scored his power play goal off passes from Barkov to Sam Bennett to Sam Reinhart in overtime.
“I can’t wait to see the atmosphere, can’t wait to play in it. This atmosphere is unreal too and maybe people on the outside world don’t know a ton about the fanbases of these two teams. But these are two of the loudest buildings to play in when it gets going. I can’t wait.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
CAROLINA HURRICANES (MET1) AT PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 3 (Panthers Lead 2-0)
- When: Monday, 8 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV: TNT
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 95.6 FM2, WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Series Schedule — Game 1: Florida 3, @Carolina 2; Game 2: Florida 2, @Carolina 1 (OT); Game 3: Monday at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 4: Wednesday at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 5*: Friday at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 6*: Sunday, May 28 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 7*: Tuesday, May 30 at Carolina, 8 (TNT). *If Necessary
- Season Series: (Carolina won 2-1): @Florida 3, Carolina 0 (Nov.9);@Carolina 4, Florida 0 (Dec. 30); Carolina 6, @Florida 4 (April 13)
- All-Time Regular Season Series: Carolina/Hartford leads 71-46-10, 11 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting
- How They Got Here — Carolina: d. New York Islanders in 6; d. New Jersey Devils in 5. Florida: d. Boston Bruins in 7; d. Toronto Maple Leafs in 5.