In what was one of the most thrilling first rounds in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Florida Panthers upset the NHL’s best regular season team ever, the Boston Bruins, as Carter Verhaeghe potted the Game 7 overtime goal to win the series, 4-3.
It was a battle behind the net of Jeremy Swayman, who got his first start of the series after Linus Ullmark was shaky in the first six games in the eyes of head coach Jim Montgomery.
After the puck found the stick of Sam Bennett, he dropped it off to Verhaeghe, who went high under the bar and just over Swayman’s shoulder for the game-winner.
TD Garden and Bruins fans in one word? Stunned.
And it wasn’t just due to the Verhaeghe goal.
As the Panthers have shown throughout this first round, they will never say die, which proved true once again when they were down 3-2 with under 90 seconds to play in the decisive game.
With one minute left to go, Brandon Montour saw the puck shift to him after it hit Patrice Bergeron with an empty net for the Panthers on the other end. He dropped his stick on the ice, flung the puck toward the net and got just the right bounce off a stick as it went just under Swayman’s pads and into the back of the net.
The Panthers freaked out on ice and on the bench, while the home crowd couldn’t believe what they just watched. A few moments later, overtime was forced and the Panthers once again didn’t allow the Bruins, who set a new NHL record during the regular season with 65 wins, to move on.
Florida was down 3-1 in this series after dropping both of their home ice tilts in Games 3 and 4. But they won in overtime in Game 5, held off the Bruins’ charge with an offensive onslaught in Game 6, and then completed the ultimate comeback with the victory on the road.
They will now head to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs, who made it out of the first round for the first time in 19 years after completing their series with the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
Montour got the Panthers on the board first in this game, and that was huge considering the team that scored first in every game this series won. He rushed into the offensive zone as a power play was winding down for Florida and slapped a backhand toward the net.
Luckily for the Panthers, the backhand went straight through Jeremy Swayman’s five hole to make it 1-0.
Early in the second period, more mishaps in the Bruins’ defensive zone as they tried to break out the puck worked out in Florida’s favor as Eetu Luostarinen got the turnover at the blue line, passed it to Anton Lundell, who dropped it off for Sam Reinhart, and he went bar down over Swayman’s glove hand to make it a 2-0 game.
There were anxious groans and even some boos from the TD Garden crowd, but a tripping call changed everything for the Bruins in this one.
Three unanswered Bruins goals ensued from there, which started when David Krejci notched his first one of the series after smashing a one-timer past Sergei Bobrovsky to cut the lead in half at 2-1.
Then, momentum swung in favor of the home team once more to start the third period, as a power play that carried over from the end of the second period led to Tyler Bertuzzi’s tip-in goal at net front to make it a 2-2 game just under one minute in.
Moments later, defenseman Brandon Carlo took a long pass from Krejci and bombed a slap shot at Bobrovsky. While he made the initial save, it was a perfect rebound to the Bruins’ trusty goalscorer this season: David Pastrnak.
He wasted no time slapping the puck past Bobrovsky and TD Garden lit up like a Christmas tree as the Bruins took the lead.
But, as history shows us, 88% of the time the team entering period 3 in the lead wins Game 7 and the Panthers kept that streak alive, even though they needed overtime.
As the Bruins were stunned on home ice, the President’s Trophy curse, which the Panthers experienced last season as the best regular season team that fell in the first round, lives on.
On the other hand, the Panthers, the No. 8 and final seed in the Eastern Conference as the second wild card team, is red-hot as they head to Toronto.