Well it’s finally over. The Florida Panthers finally snapped their 26 year playoff series win drought w/ a 4-3 overtime victory in Capital One Arena Friday night, to win their first round series against the Capitals in 6 games. Let’s take a quick look at this historic Panther series.
THE COMEBACK CATS
The Florida Panthers made their mark on the league w/ I can’t even count the amount of comeback wins they had. In the Washington series, the Panthers came back to win three games in a row, erasing deficits in Games 4, 5 and 6, as well as coming back from a 1-0 and 2-1 series deficit to win the series. The Capitals were unable to close out the Panthers, with the Panthers scoring a late goal in Game 4 to force overtime, the Cats erasing a 3-0 deficit in Game 5 w/ 5 unanswered goals and two separate comebacks in Game 6 before overtime. Sam Reinhart scored two crucial goals to tie Games 4 and 5, as well as a crucial goal from Claude Giroux to tie Game 6. However, none of them matched the heroics of one Panther player, who had such a dominant series, he enshrined himself in the Panthers Den of Honor.
CARTER THE GREAT
Carter Verhaeghe had a massive series. In 6 games, he had 6 goals and 6 assists for 12 points, including three consecutive game winning goals in Games 4, 5 and 6. Verhaeghe scored the OT goals in Games 4 and 6. Verhaeghe’s 5 point performance in Game 5 helped turn the momentum of the series in the Panthers favor. Washington fans will curse the name Verhaeghe for the next year.
TJ OSHIE: PANTHER KILLER
Going into the playoffs, many expected Alex Ovechkin to be the premier threat for the Panthers to face. However, the Cats were able to limit the Russian star to a lone goal. However, his teammate TJ Oshie picked up the slack, scoring 6 goals, including a last-minute tying goal in Game 6 to force overtime, which the Panthers won.
Sergei Bobrovsky had a solid playoff series. Although his numbers may seem to be pedestrian, Bobrovsky posted a .906 save percentage and a 2.79 GAA, he made some huge saves, making saves when he needed to. His numbers are largely dragged down by an all-around poor team effort in Game 3, and the Panthers limiting the Capitals to 16 shots in game 4. There were questions about how Bobrovsky would perform come playoff time, with a career playoff save percentage below .900 and a nightmare 2021 postseason where he posted a 5.33 GAA and .841 save percentage, finding himself scratched in elimination games. Bobrovsky hasn’t displayed the past dominance of his Veznia campaigns, but his play was enough to help them past the Capitals.
This was not a cakewalk series that many analysts expected it would be for the Panthers. This was a tough, brutal and grinding series. The Capitals largely managed to stifle the Panthers offense early in the series, with their suffocating 1-3-1 trap, which worked effectively at limiting the Panthers potent rush offense. After Vitek Vanecek collapsed in Game 2, the Capitals replaced him with Ilya Samsonov, who went on a 6 3/4 period run, where he only allowed two goals, before the Panthers eventually solved him on a consistent basis.
The most concerning aspect of the series and something that needs to be addressed is the powerless powerplay. The Panthers did not convert on a single powerplay chance, going 0/18 (I think) on their man-advantage opportunities. None of the powerplays looked particularly good, with the Capitals box defense forcing the Panthers to pass it around aimlessly and not get shots through, with quick clears. The Panthers biggest weakness on the man advantage is how long they take to regroup when the puck is cleared. Normally when on the PK, I’ll see teams regroup and be back in the offensive-zone within 15 seconds usually, but for the Panthers it normally takes over 20 seconds. The Panthers also weren’t especially excellent down a man, with TJ Oshie repeatedly killing the Cats when the Capitals had the man-advantage. The Panthers will not beat the Tampa Bay Lightning without a dramatic improvement in their special teams.
Finally, this series was clearly an example of the talent difference between the two clubs. The Capitals grinded, gave it their all and worked hard, but came up short. The Panthers talent was able to bail them out, and won them their first series since 1996.
THREE STARS OF THE SERIES
1st Star: Carter Verhaeghe (6 GP, 6 G, 6 A, 12 PTS)
2nd Star: Sergei Bobrovsky (6 GP, 4-2, 2.79 GAA, .906 SVPCT)
3rd Star: Claude Giroux (6 GP, 3 G, 4 A, 7 PTS)
PLAYERS WHO NEED TO DO BETTER
Jonathan Huberdeau (6 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 PTS)
Anthony Duclair (5 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS)