greg wyshynskiESPN4 minute read
SUNRISE, Fla. — The Cardiac Cats are back.
The Florida Panthers’ 3-2 overtime victory in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night cut the Vegas Golden Knights’ series lead to 2-1. Matthew Tkachuk tied the game with 2:13 remaining in regulation. Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into the overtime session to win, and in the process pushed the Panthers’ overtime record to 7–0 in the playoffs.
Tkachuk said that after two disastrous games in Las Vegas to open the series, the Panthers felt that many didn’t believe they could bounce back in the series.
“I mean, they all wrote us off before the final started,” Tkachuk said. “We are that kind of team where we know what the ultimate goal is. [is]. We don’t know how we’re going to get there, but we’re going to do everything we can to get there.”
The win not only returned Florida to the series, it was a landmark moment in franchise history. This was the first victory for the Panthers in a Stanley Cup final game, after being swept by the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and losing the first two games of this series in Las Vegas.
“It’s amazing. I’m not going to lie,” said captain Aleksander Barkov, who spent the first 10 years of his career with Florida. “I’ve been here a long time, and this is the best moment of my life right now. Playing in front of that crowd and fighting for something you’ve been dreaming of since you were born, literally.”
At the heart of that winning effort were three players — Tkachuk, Verhaeghe and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky — who made the difference in Game 3.
Tkachuk factored in both Panthers goals in regulation. He set up defenseman Brandon Montour for the game’s first goal in the first period. It was the first point for Montour since Game 2 of the second round.
“That’s for my baby,” said Montour, who flew from Las Vegas to Boca Raton between Games 1 and 2 to be with his wife, Ryian, while she gave birth to their son, Kai.
But Tkachuk’s night took a dramatic turn moments after Montour’s goal. Just 5:54 into the first half, Tkachuk received a pass in his own zone near the blue line. While picking up the ice, a lightning-sprinting Keegan Kolesar shouldered into Tkachuk, dropping the Panthers star to the ice.
When he returned to the Panthers dugout, Tkachuk was examined by a team trainer. He returned for a turn during a Panthers power play, but then left the ice and the bench and didn’t take a turn for the rest of the period.
Panthers coach Paul Maurice confirmed that Tkachuk was removed from the game by NHL concussion spotters.
Tkachuk was not on the Panthers’ bench to start the second period, but he returned to the ice at 4:26 of the second.
“He’s going to come back no matter what,” Barkov said. “He’s a really tough guy, and he’s going to fight anything.”
Tkachuk kept fighting until late in the third period, when he tied the game with Bobrovsky retired. Seven of Tkachuk’s 11 goals this postseason have come in or after the third period.
For Vegas, it was the first time in 11 games that they held a lead after the second period and lost. For coach Bruce Cassidy, it was only the second time in 27 career playoff games that an opponent had rallied to beat one of his teams as they led into the third quarter.
“Give them credit. They stayed, found a late goal and then won in overtime,” Las Vegas star Jack Eichel said. “Obviously you don’t want to blow a lead when you’re up a goal with a few minutes remaining, but it’s all part of it. Nobody said it was going to be easy.”
Verhaeghe’s extra-time goal was just the latest historic moment for the winger. In the 2022 playoffs, his Game 6 overtime goal eliminated the Washington Capitals and gave the Panthers their first playoff series victory since 1996. In the first round of this postseason, he scored the game-winning goal in overtime. extra in Game 7 at the Boston Bruins, completing one of the most impressive comeback series victories in NHL postseason history.
And Verhaeghe’s seventh playoff win gave Florida its first Stanley Cup Final win in franchise history.
“Throughout his career, he’s taken a puck off his club faster than anyone can react,” Maurice said. “When you get to overtime, nobody’s pressuring you to make a better play. Just shoot the damn puck.”
Finally, when the Cardiac Cats returned, so did Playoff Bob. After being pulled from Game 2, Bobrovsky was brilliant in Game 3 with 25 saves, stopping several high-danger Golden Knights opportunities.
“He was unbelievable for us, he made some unreal saves literally every period,” Barkov said. “He gave us the opportunity to win and we took advantage of that opportunity.”
Game 4 is scheduled for Saturday night at Sunrise. Tkachuk said the mission doesn’t change for the Panthers.
“They’ll probably all say how they led for most of the game, and they did,” he said. “But at the end of the day, nobody cares how we got here. It’s a 2-1 series. We came into this game just to win one game and we did that. We’re going to do the exact same thing going into it.” Game 4″.