TORONTO — After a stunning first-round upset win over top-seeded Boston, the Florida Panthers picked up where they left off on Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
And just like he did in Game 7 against the Bruins, it was Carter Verhaeghe who delivered the game-winning goal. He converted after being sent in alone late in the second period to help the Panthers to a 4-2 win at Scotiabank Arena.
“Instead of going in (to intermission) tied, you go up a goal, so it’s huge,” he said. “It kind of settled us down after the period. You take a deep breath. It was a good goal.”
Brandon Montour added an insurance goal in the third period. Nick Cousins and Sam Bennett scored earlier for the Panthers. Matthew Tkachuk had three assists and Aleksander Barkov chipped in with a pair.
Florida’s speed, chippiness and steady forechecking worked well once again. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made 34 saves and prevented the host team from gaining any momentum.
“He was unbelievable, he’s been great in every game that he’s come in,” Bennett said of the netminder. “It has been awesome to see. That’s what we need out of him and he’s stepped up.”
Verhaeghe ended Boston’s season last Sunday by notching the overtime winner to set up a matchup with Toronto in the Eastern Conference semifinal. The Maple Leafs needed six games to dispatch the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Panthers played like they hadn’t missed a beat and showed no signs of fatigue after going the distance against Boston.
“I thought we were good tonight,” said Florida coach Paul Maurice. “I didn’t think we were great.”
It was still good enough to strike first against a Toronto team that had some moments but couldn’t set the tone it wanted in the best-of-seven opener. Matthew Knies and Michael Bunting tallied for the Maple Leafs.
Unlike the first round, the Panthers’ penalty killers were in form. Florida killed just 16 of 27 (59.3 per cent) penalties against Boston, good for 14th out of 16 playoff teams.
The Panthers denied the Toronto power play on two occasions early in the first period and shut down the Leafs on all three of their man-advantage opportunities overall.
“The PK was dialed,” Bobrovsky said. “Lots of good blocked shots and lots of good stick (play).”
Game 2 is set for Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2023.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press