Florida Panthers march on in NHL playoffs after long-awaited series ...

30 Apr 2024


April 30, 2024 / 7:39 AM EDT / AP

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CBS News Miami Live

Before the final minutes even ticked off the clock at Amerant Bank Arena on Monday night, Florida Panthers fans — clad in red jerseys and waving light-up rally towels in the air — were singing goodbye to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Tampa Bay's season ended there, in a 6-1 loss to Florida in the first round of the NHL playoffs. And the Panthers will march on after beating their in-state rivals in a playoff series for the first time in four tries.

The Panthers won four of five games in the series thanks to stellar play on the penalty kill and some clutch performances from goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and their other stars. They'll face either the Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round. The Bruins lead their first-round series 3-1 with Game 5 in Boston on Tuesday.

"Really happy for the players who went through the pain of not having success," Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. "(Aleksander) Barkov and Bobrovksy, when you're a leader, when you're the No. 1 goaltender and the captain, and you have a series that doesn't go your way, those are the guys to look at. They have to answer for it."

Both players answered in the first round this year after being part of Panthers teams that lost 4-2 to Tampa Bay in 2021 and were swept in 2022. Barkov scored both of his opening-round goals in Game 5. Bobrovsky had a .896 save percentage. And Carter Verhaeghe scored five goals as they all hope to carry the Panthers into the next round.

"Every series is different and this group of guys is special and works so hard," Bobrovsky said. "We have a great structure and everybody executed and worked hard for it. We're really close."

Even after what many Panthers players described as a hard-fought, emotional series in Round 1, they believe that they have the group to avoid a drop off.

"We're gonna be playing probably our next biggest rival, so there will be no emotional letdown," Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk said. "Whoever we play, it's going to be another very intense, another fun series to be a part of."

The Panthers overcame a 3-1 series deficit against the Bruins in the first round of last year's playoffs, defeating Boston 4-3 in overtime of Game 7 to eliminate a dominant Bruins team that had set a regular-season record with 63 wins. Florida then beat the Maple Leafs in five games in the next round.

Florida was winless against the Bruins in the regular season, going 0-2-2 with three of those losses coming by one goal. Barkov and Sam Reinhard each had two goals and two assists in those games. Tkachuk had a goal and an assist.

The Panthers split the regular-season series with the Maple Leafs, with Reinhard notching four goals and an assist.

Florida's penalty kill, which was nearly perfect against the Lightning's power play that led the league during the season, could be one of its biggest advantages moving forward. The Panthers killed off 16 of 18 Tampa Bay power plays, staying aggressive and keeping the Lightning out of the offensive zone.

"That was my favorite part: When the pressure was the most extreme, the guys made plays. They stepped up and made some plays," Maurice said. "That takes some courage."

In: Sports NHL Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup
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