WASHINGTON – Sam Reinhart tied it late in regulation, Carter Verhaeghe scored his second of the game in overtime and the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 in Game 4 Monday night, tying the first-round series.
Verhaeghe scored 4:57 into overtime to keep the NHL’s best regular-season team from getting pushed to the brink of elimination much earlier in the playoffs than expected. It’s a best-of-three series now with Game 5 Wednesday night at Florida.
“It’s hard out there -- everyone’s got to play a little harder,” said Verhaeghe, who played eight games on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2020 Cup run in the bubble. “We’re competing for the Cup. Nothing’s easy. Nothing’s given to you.”
The Panthers were just over two minutes away from facing the prospect of getting knocked out at home. Then, with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky pulled for an extra attacker, Reinhart collected a loose puck after it bounced off Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway and beat Ilya Samsonov with 2:04 remaining in the third period.
“Those are the kind of situations you want to be in as a hockey player,” Reinhart said. “It’s a game that could really go either way at the end of it and we stuck with it and we’re happy with the result.”
Given the combination of nerves and playoff inexperience that contributed to Florida’s struggles in the series, Reinhart’s goal may turn out to be the one that saved its season.
Before that point, the Panthers outshot the Capitals by a wide margin, but again were unable to finish. They went 0 for 4 on the power play to make it 0 for 13 in the series and couldn’t put the puck in the net at 5 on 5.
Before Reinhart scored 6 on 5, their only other goal came 4 on 4 when Carter Verhaeghe finished a 2 on 1 rush late in the first.
Bobrovsky stopped 14 of 16 shots. Samsonov made 29 saves.
T.J. Oshie scored on the power play in the first, and Evgeny Kuznetsov put Washington ahead on a breakaway goal midway through the third.
These teams have now traded victories. The Capitals have not won consecutive playoff games since 2019.
Florida is trying to break the franchise’s playoff series losing streak that dates to 1996, when the team reached the Stanley Cup Final.
The Panthers overcame more penalty problems Monday, when they were whistled for seven minors and needed to kill 43 seconds of a 5-on-3 Washington power play. Similar disciplinary issues caused them to get knocked out in the first round last season by eventual champion Tampa Bay.
Expectations are much larger this time around after compiling 111 points during the regular season. Interim coach Andrew Brunette and players lamented an inability for the Panthers to find their game in playoff hockey, which typically features a different style and more intensity.
More intensity is what Brunette wanted to see out of his team after getting waxed 6-1 in Game 3 on Saturday. The Panthers had that at times and pushed hard early in the third period, but they needed extra time -- in just the third game of 30 completed in the playoffs to go to overtime -- to even the series.
NOTES: The Panthers stuck with the same lineup from Games 1-3, but moved some players around at forward and on defense. ... Nicklas Backstrom’s secondary assist on Oshie’s goal gave him a team-leading five points in the playoffs.
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