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Cousins scores in OT to send Panthers into Eastern Conference final after 3-2 win over Maple Leafs

panthers maple leafs

TORONTO — Nick Cousins scored at 15:32 of overtime and Sergei Bobrovsky made 50 saves as the Florida Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series on Friday to advance to the Eastern Conference final.

Aaron Ekblad and Carter Verhaeghe each had a goal and an assist to help the Panthers build a 2-0 lead in the first period.

Morgan Rielly and William Nylander scored for the Maple Leafs, who had advanced in the playoffs for the first time in 19 years when they beat Tampa Bay in the first round. Rookie goalie Joseph Woll had 41 saves in his first home playoff start.

In the extra period, Cousins buried his second goal of the playoffs off the rush short-side on Woll to send the Panthers to the conference finals for the first time since 1996.

Florida - the team with the fewest points to qualify for the postseason - won all three games in Toronto and improved to 6-1 on the road in the playoffs after also upsetting the record-setting Boston Bruins. The Panthers will next face the Carolina Hurricanes, who also beat the New Jersey Devils in five games.

Woll was coming off a 24-save effort in a Game 4 win that avoided the sweep.

The Maple Leafs now face an uncertain offseason despite its breakthrough against the Lightning. General manager Kyle Dubas doesn’t have a contract beyond June 30, while there have also been rumblings about the future of coach Sheldon Keefe. Nylander and Auston Matthews both have one year remaining on their contracts and can sign extensions as of July 1, while fellow star forward Mitch Marner’s no-movement clause kicks in the same day.

Toronto’s high-powered offense - including the so-called “Core Four” of Matthews, Nylander, Marner and John Tavares - scored just three times in the series for a team that totaled just 14 goals over its final seven playoff games, including a paltry 10 against the Panthers.

The Maple Leafs finished the post-season 1-5 at home.

Florida went up 1-0 on a power play at 3:31 of the opening period when Ekblad blasted a one-timer for his first on a shot that handcuffed Woll after the goalie made a flurry of early stops.

The Maple Leafs pushed back and had a couple of terrific chances on a pair of man advantages, but couldn’t solve Bobrovsky.

Verhaeghe then got his fifth on a one-timer of his own with 3:42 left in the first after Toronto defenseman Timothy Liljegren fumbled the puck at his blue line to make it 2-0.

Rielly’s point shot made its way through a crowd in front at 7:50 of the second for his fourth to cut the Panthers’ lead in half.

Toronto appeared to tie things with 2:49 remaining in the period when Rielly looked to have pushed the puck over the line in close off the rush. The call on the ice of no goal stood following a long video review - the officials deemed the play dead prior to the puck crossing the line - which prompted some fans to litter the ice with drinks, water bottles and rally towels.

Marner hit the post on a shot that took a deflection shortly after play resumed.

Nylander tied it with 4:37 left in the third as he took a pass from Tavares in stride and beat Bobrovsky from a tight angle upstairs. It was his fourth goal of the postseason to spark wild celebrations inside a frothing Scotiabank Arena - and the chaotic street party outside in Maple Leaf Square.

However, the Maple Leafs couldn’t get another goal.


Friday marked exactly 17 years since Panthers coach Paul Maurice was named to the same post with the Maple Leafs. He lasted two seasons in Toronto before getting fired following the 2007-08 campaign.


Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk was announced as one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP shortly before the game. The other nominees are Oilers captain Connor McDavid and Bruins forward David Pastrnak.