The Wraparound: Panthers looking to advance for first time in 26 years
The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television information.
• Check in with all of Thursday’s NHL Stanley Cup playoff action with the NHL Rink Wrap right here.
• The Lightning are not going away, forcing a Game 7 against the Maple Leafs with an OT win on Thursday.
• We know of at least one Second Round matchup as the Blues beat the Wild on Thursday, advancing to play the Avalanche.
The Florida Panthers are in uncharted territory. At least for them.
They enter Game 6 (7:30 p.m. ET; TBS, SN360, TVA Sports) against the Capitals with a 3-2 series lead and are looking to advance to the Second Round for the first time since their improbably Stanley Cup Final run in 1996. That is a span of 26 years without playing a game outside of the First Round.
Even more incredible than that, is that in those 26 years they have only had one series where they even had a chance to play in a game with a chance to advance. They had a 3-2 series lead against the New Jersey Devils in 2012 before losing Games 6 and 7 (both in overtime) to lose the series. In every other year dating back to 1996 the Panthers have either missed the playoffs entirely (the most common result) or lost their First Round series in five or six games, never even getting to a third win.
Now they have that chance, and it has been a journey in getting here.
They entered the playoffs as heavy favorites, got badly outplayed in the first three games, and faced a 2-1 series deficit in Game 4 on the road. In that Game 4 they were a matter of inches from facing a 3-1 series deficit until Garnet Hathaway’s empty-net bid just missed, giving them a chance to tie the game with two minutes to play and setting the stage for Carter Verhaeghe to win the game in overtime.
In Game 5 they were facing a 3-0 deficit before storming back (again led by Verhaeghe) for a 5-3 win to regain control of the series. Now comes the difficult part: Getting that fourth win, on the road, in a hostile environment, against a veteran team that has been through everything there is to go through in the playoffs.
There were a lot of reasons for concern for the Panthers earlier in this series but they have managed to fight through it and put themselves in a good position going into Game 6, and it is not the players that you would expect that are leading them. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau have been mostly quiet in this series offensively (at least by their standards) with Verhaeghe being the player to lead the offense (10 points in five games, including seven over the past two wins). Sometimes that is what the playoffs are all about when it comes to winning and advancing. Your superstars will not find the scoreboard every night and it can come down to whose depth players shine. Florida is getting that right now from Verhaeghe and it has given them a chance to advance for just the second time in franchise history.
NHL PLAYOFF GAMES TODAY
Game 6: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET -- TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports (PIT leads 3-2): The Penguins get another chance to clinch their series against the Rangers after letting a two-goal lead late in the second period slip away on Wednesday night. The big question here, as it has been alll series, will be injuries. Sidney Crosby exited Wednesday’s game after taking a high hit from Jacob Trouba, while Tristan Jarry, Rickard Rakell, and Brian Dumoullin all remain day-to-day. Louis Domingue has held his own and done the best that could have been reasonably expected, but they really need better goaltending while Crosby’s availability might determine which way this series goes.
Game 6: Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET -- TBS, SN360, TVA Sports (FLA leads 3-2): It could be a significant night for the Panthers as they try to do something they have not done in 26 years: Win a playoff series. They can not be happy with the way they have played overall and should be fortunate to even be in this position, but they are here and have to take advantage of it. This is the first time in a long time this team has had real expectations and a First Round loss here with this team would be a bitter disappointment given the regular season performance they had, winning the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history.
Game 6: Calgary Flames at Dallas Stars, 9:30 p.m. ET -- TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports (CGY leads 3-2): The Stars are getting sensational goaltending from Jake Oettinger, but their offense is non-existent outside of their top line. Even that line has struggled, outside of a couple of big games from Joe Pavelski. Such is life in the playoffs against a Darryl Sutter coached team. This has been a tight, physical, close-checking, defensive series with superb goaltending at both ends of the ice and there is no reason to think that is going to change in Game 6. The key for the Stars is going to be finding a way to get that first goal.
SATURDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
Game 7: Boston Bruins at Carolina Hurricanes (Series tied 3-3), 4:30 p.m. ET -- ESPN, Sportsnet East, Sportsnet West, Sportsnet Pacific, SN360, TVA Sports
Game 7: Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs (Series tied 3-3), 7 p.m. ET -- TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports
Game 7: Los Angeles Kings at Edmonton Oilers (Series tied 3-3), 10 p.m. ET -- ESPN, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports