RALEIGH, N.C. — Matthew Tkachuk’s goal with 12.7 seconds left in quadruple overtime gave the Florida Panthers a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday morning.
Florida forward Sam Bennett forced a turnover and slid the puck to Tkachuk, who snapped it past Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen (57 saves) for his sixth goal of the playoffs. He immediately started skating to center ice and pointing to the exit to the dressing rooms, leading his exhausted teammates off the ice.
“Probably my favorite [goal] so far in my life,” said Tkachuk, who scored his second overtime winner of the postseason. “Big to not let it go to five overtimes there.”
The Panthers lead the series 1-0. The game finished at 79:47 of overtime play, the sixth-longest game in Stanley Cup playoff history.
“This is the worst way to lose,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “There’s no way around it. But we’ll regroup and come back it again the next one. It’s just one game.”
Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made 63 saves in the win. “At that point you don’t feel much about your body. It’s more mental,” he said. “Your focus is completely on the game. One shot at a time and you don’t think about your body.”
The overtime thriller had several moments of high drama.
Ryan Lomberg appeared to have the game won just two minutes, 34 seconds into the first overtime. After the Hurricanes fumbled the puck in their own zone, his quick spinning shot from the slot flew past Andersen. The Panthers celebrated and the Carolina fans began exiting, but the Hurricanes players remained standing at their bench. At issue: Florida forward Colin White made contact with Andersen in his crease while jostling with Carolina’s Jack Drury.
After video review, it was determined there was enough contact to warrant goalie interference and the goal was waved off. The official ruling from the NHL: That White had “a significant presence in the crease and made incidental contact” with Andersen that “impaired his ability to play his position” before Lomberg’s shot. Rule 69.1 states that goal will be disallowed if “an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal.”
The fans walked back down the stairs to their seats. Overtime would continue. And continue. And continue.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity throughout the whole playoffs and the season,” said Florida defenseman Radko Gudas. “We don’t really care. We put the working boots back on and we just grind ’em down and we just keep going.”
In the third overtime, Florida defenseman Brandon Montour found himself alone in front of Andersen, but his double-deke move was saved by the goaltender. He was at the end of a shift that was nearly three minutes long.
In the fourth overtime, the Hurricanes were given a power play after a hooking penalty on Florida winger Carter Verhaeghe. But they failed to register a shot on goal.
That was Friday morning. On Thursday night, the game got off to a fiery start thanks to Panthers coach Paul Maurice.
With Florida defenseman Marc Staal in the penalty box for tripping Carolina’s Martin Necas at 17:44 of the first period, the Panthers were whistled for another call just 39 seconds later. Carolina forward Stefan Noesen screened Bobrovsky as a shot from Necas went wide. As Noesen turned his body, defenseman Aaron Ekblad cross-checked him in the back. Noesen fell to the ice and into Bobrovsky.
Referee Steve Kozari signaled a cross-checking penalty. As Ekblad skated to the box, Maurice vehemently and profanely protested the call.
With 11.1 seconds left in the period, Seth Jarvis blasted a shot high over Bobrovsky for his fifth goal of the playoffs on a 5-on-4 power play. The Panthers earned three minor penalties in the first period, with Bennett getting a delay of game call at 12:17.
Florida forward Anthony Duclair’s line helped give the Panthers the lead in the second period. Dulcair found captain Aleksander Barkov for an open shot that beat Andersen for the tie at 15:28. Just 2:15 later, Duclair fed Verhaeghe for another open shot that beat Andersen glove side for the 2-1 advantage.
That was the score entering the third period, where the Hurricanes found their spark again. With Bennett in the penalty box on a boarding penalty, a failed clearing attempt by the Panthers led to an odd-man chance down low for the Canes. Necas passed to Jarvis who passed to Noesen for a gorgeous game-tying goal.
That goal was scored 3:47 into the third period. Turned out, there was a lot more game to follow.
“Both teams spent what they had,” Maurice said. “That’s a huge cost for both teams. It’s a race to recover now.”
Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday night in Raleigh. Brind’Amour said he yet to think about whether Andersen would get the start given his Game 1 marathon, with backup Antti Raanta owning impressive numbers on home ice.
“I haven’t even processed this one yet,” he said.