After yet another big comeback win, the Florida Panthers are on the verge of their first postseason series victory in 26 years Friday night as they visit the Washington Capitals for Game 6 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
The Panthers hold a 3-2 lead in the series, which seemed unlikely when they had fallen behind 3-0 after 26 minutes of play in Game 5. Florida scored five unanswered goals to claim the pivotal victory.
Carter Verhaeghe recorded two goals and three assists. The five-point performance was a personal best for Verhaeghe, setting a Panthers record for points in a single playoff game.
The forward also scored two goals in Game 4, including the overtime winner in Florida's 3-2 victory.
"Back-to-back games like that, tonight with the five points, and (Verhaeghe was) a big part of every goal and every play we made," Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette said. "It takes everybody to step up, and it was his turn here the last few games. Hopefully he keeps it rolling. We talked last game about how vital he is to the way we play, and he was relentless all night."
Game 5 was another example of how the high-scoring Panthers seemingly can't be counted out. During the regular season, the Panthers set an NHL record with five wins in games they trailed by at least three goals.
The Capitals had been only 2:04 away from a 3-1 series lead before Sam Reinhart's late equalizer in Game 4. Now, Washington will need to win on Friday just to keep its season alive.
In the view of Washington coach Peter Laviolette, "there were two games that were played" during Game 5.
"There was the game to push it to 3-0 where I liked everything we did ... and then there was the game that took place after that," Laviolette said. "If you play against a team like Florida that is a high-octane team, we're just feeding them and we can't. We've got to get back to that first part of that game, and you've got to play it consistently for 60 minutes."
Another dichotomy exists between even-strength play and special teams play in the series. Florida has outscored Washington by a 15-8 margin at even strength, but the Capitals are a perfect 16-for-16 in penalty kills. The Capitals are 6-for-20 on the power play, scoring at least once with the extra attacker in every game.
Washington goalie Ilya Samsonov stopped 33 of 38 shots in Game 5, playing every minute since replacing Vitek Vanecek prior to the third period of Game 2. Despite the shaky performance on Wednesday, Samsonov still has a 2.68 goals against average for the series, and could be favored to start again.
Sergei Bobrovsky is likely to make his sixth straight start for Florida.
Florida's Mason Marchment is questionable after missing Game 5 with an undisclosed injury.
Capitals forward Tom Wilson is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, sidelined since suffering the injury early in Game 1.
The Panthers are winless in their last seven postseason series and haven't won a playoff series since reaching the Stanley Cup Final 1996, when they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche.
The 24-season drought without a series victory is the longest of any team in the NHL.
If necessary, Game 7 is scheduled for Sunday in Sunrise, Florida.
--Field Level Media