Verhaeghe scores in OT as Panthers rally past Golden Knights to cut series deficit

Overtime. Season basically on the line. The Florida Panthers keep finding ways to flourish in those moments.

And for the first time, they’ve won a game in the Stanley Cup final.

Carter Verhaeghe snapped a wrister from the slot high into the back of the net 4:27 into overtime and the Panthers rallied to beat the visiting Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 on Thursday night in Game 3. Vegas still leads the title series 2-1, but Florida has life and found a way to turn overtime into its favourite time once again.

“We’re the Cats,” said Verhaeghe, after his fourth career playoff overtime goal. “We have whatever lives we have, but it’s awesome. It shows how great our team is and the guys on our team have no quit in them.”

The Panthers are 7-0 in these playoffs in OT — actually winning more games in extra sessions than they’ve won in regulation.

“We don’t know how we’re going to get there,” said Matthew Tkachuk, who tied the game with 2:13 left in regulation. “But we’re going to do everything we can to get there.”

Tkachuk gave Florida a chance, and the Panthers won their first title-series game in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner with Tkachuk providing some traffic in front of the net.

“I had a little bit of time to walk in and shoot,” Verhaeghe said. “I’m so happy it went in.”

Game 4 is Saturday night.

“There’s a little bit of collective confidence,” said Florida coach Paul Maurice, whose teams are 19-7 in overtime games over his playoff career.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

“Normally that’s a shot that we’re going to give up, get the save and move on,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It wasn’t like an odd-man rush through the middle so I didn’t mind the way we defended it. … I mean, they’ve got good players. They’re going to make some plays.”

Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit and needing to be cleared by the NHL’s concussion protocol program — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

“Nobody cares how we got here,” Tkachuk said. “It’s a 2-1 series.”

‘We found our legs a little bit’

The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

“We found our legs a little bit,” Florida’s Sam Reinhart said.

Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone had power-play goals for Vegas.

Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.

“I didn’t mind our game,” Cassidy said. “They made a play in overtime. … Sometimes that happens to you.”

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