SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — When the Florida Panthers are headed to overtime in the playoffs, the routine basically goes like this: The horn sounds to end the third period, the team retreats to the locker room for intermission, and the discussion starts.
There’s only one topic.
“Chirpin’ who gets to score the goal,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.
Turns out, the Panthers don’t really care who scores it — as long as they score it. And in these playoffs, no team has been anywhere near as good as the Panthers have in extra time. They’re 7-0 in overtime in this postseason, the most recent of those wins coming Thursday when they rallied to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“Overtime wins are more fun,” Maurice said. “They are, right? We’ve had a whole bunch of them. And we haven’t over-celebrated but they are more fun, right? You win a game in regulation, half your team kind of walks off the bench, and they skate and they tap pads and it’s fun. It’s a good thing. … But we allow ourselves to celebrate the overtime wins.”
Vegas still leads the series 2-1. Game 4 is Saturday night on the Panthers’ home ice.
No team over the last seven seasons has more playoff OT wins than Florida, which is 10-0 in its last 10 postseason games that have gone past the 60-minute mark — and the Panthers weren’t even in the playoffs for three of those years. They have more playoff overtime wins this year than any two other teams in the NHL combined, and Sergei Bobrovsky has stopped all 56 shots that he’s faced after regulation this spring.
Carter Verhaeghe got the gamewinner on Thursday night 4:27 into overtime. It was his second OT gamewinner of these playoffs, and he became the first player in NHL history to have at least two OT goals in back-to-back postseasons. He had two last year for the Panthers.
“Whenever we get to overtime, just give the puck to Carter Verhaeghe and then usually good things happen,” Florida’s Nick Cousins said. “Yeah, I don’t know what it is. It seems like every time we get to overtime, we always have somebody step up. With our group, it’s definitely pretty special.”
It’s not just Verhaeghe. Matthew Tkachuk has three OT gamewinners for Florida this year, tying the NHL record held by three other players. He and Verhaeghe are the first teammates with multiple OT gamewinners in the same year since Montreal had three players — John Leclair, Guy Carbonneau and Kirk Muller — do it in 1993, the last time the Canadiens won the Cup.
Cousins and Sam Reinhart have the other OT gamewinners for Florida this spring.
“We’ve got guys that can score. We’ve got guys that are comfortable in a situation where they can be asked to bury one,” Florida veteran Eric Staal said. “We’ve got guys that have some gamebreaking ability and when you have that in your lineup, it takes one quick look. Obviously, we saw that last night but we saw it over the whole course of the playoffs. There are guys in our room that are built for moments like that and hopefully there’s some more ahead here as we continue on.”
This isn’t a new thing for Florida, either. Some call the Panthers the Comeback Cats, some say the Cardiac Cats, and both are appropriate. They needed rallies late in the regular season when making their push just to get into the playoffs, then had a flair for drama over and over again in Round 1 against overwhelmingly favored Boston, Round 2 against Toronto and Round 3 against Carolina.
Including playoffs, Florida has 91 comeback wins over the last four seasons — tying Tampa Bay for the most in the NHL over that span.
None of the first 90 meant as much as the one Thursday did. For the first time, the Panthers have won a game in the Cup final. They’ll need a comeback story to finish the job and win the Cup, but the Panthers are convinced they have the pedigree to do just that.
“We just believe,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “We’re getting into overtime because I think we’re playing the right way, and we just continue to do that, continue to work hard and we’re going to get chances at some point.”
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