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Stanley Cup roundup

Panthers 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

Jonathan Huberdeau couldn't remember what it was like to be on the smiling side of a handshake line.

The feelings were so strong after he and the Florida Panthers beat the Washington Capitals 4-3 in overtime Friday night to win Game 6 and move on to the second round that Huberdeau wants to replicate it over and over.

“We didn’t know how it felt,” he said. “Now we might as well go all the way.”

That's a long way off but getting out of the first round was a strong first step for the Presidents' Trophy winners who won the franchise's first playoff series since 1996. Ending that drought at 26 years took bouncing back from the Capitals tying the score with 1:03 left in regulation and getting another big goal from leading scorer Carter Verhaeghe 2:46 into overtime to move on.

Florida will face either the cross-state rival — and back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning — or the Toronto Maple Leafs in the next round. They face off in Game 7 of that series Saturday.

“They’re going to be big-time challenges,” interim coach Andrew Brunette said. “It will be a different kind of series.”

This series included the Panthers rallying from a deficit to win the final three games. After Ryan Lomberg tied it in the second period in his return to the lineup, trade-deadline acquisition Claude Giroux evened things up in the third and captain Aleksander Barkov put them ahead before T.J. Oshie's power-play goal sent the game to OT.

After a league-high 29 comeback victories in the regular season and a dose of adversity in a tougher series than many anticipated, the Panthers were not shaken by the sudden turn of events.

“We were just confident,” Huberdeau said. “We know we can score some goals. Obviously, they tied it up, but that’s hockey. That’s how it happened the way we won here the last time, so that was the same thing. Obviously, we stuck with it, and that’s the kind of team we are and we showed it.”

Verhaeghe’s OT goal was his team-leading sixth of the series and came after he missed the morning skate and was considered a game-time decision. Brunette said Verhaeghe “dug in deep and found a way to get it done.”

That's true about the entire team. Dogged by the reputation of losing in the playoffs, Florida's core of Huberdeau, Barkov and top defenseman Aaron Ekblad that had fallen short three previous times finally got to soak in what it's like to win a series.

“It means a lot," Barkov said. "There’s been a lot of talk about this and not winning any rounds, getting knocked out in the first round and stuff like that. Of course you don’t think about that, but it’s there. It’s not there anymore, so we’re happy about that and happy to be a part of it. But there’s still a long way to go to the point where we actually want to be.”

The Capitals got there in 2018, winning the organization's first Stanley Cup title. They have not won a playoff series since and got knocked out in the first round at home for the third time in that span.

“I think you see how we played against the best team in the regular season,” Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We have it, but we just blow it away. It is on us.”

The Panthers' most recent series win came June 1, 1996, when they beat Pittsburgh in Game 7 to advance to the final. They got swept by Colorado, starting what would begin a 26-year wait between series victories.

Other than the expansion Seattle Kraken, every other NHL franchise had won at least two series during that span. Detroit won 27, Pittsburgh 24, Tampa Bay 22 and Colorado won 20. Florida kept waiting and waiting for just one, until Friday.

“These things, you’ve got to go through them a few times to really get the feel of it,” Brunette said. “You have to have heartbreaks. You have to have things that don’t go your way and you can find how hard it is and understand it and be resilient and when you see the reward like they saw tonight, it was all worth it.”

Lomberg played for the first time since Game 1, replacing Anthony Duclair in Florida's lineup. Duclair was a healthy scratch after putting just one shot on net in the first five games.

Washington was without right wing Tom Wilson for a fifth consecutive game because of a lower-body injury.

Stars 4, Flames 2

Miro Heiskanen scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period for Dallas, which recovered after blowing an early two-goal lead and beat Calgary to force a deciding Game 7 in their first-round Western Conference series.

The first goal in these playoffs for Heiskanen came on a 40-foot shot with a bunch of traffic in front of Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom. That came with 2:28 left in the second period, in which both teams scored twice.

The series wraps up Sunday night in Calgary, where the Flames last hosted a Game 7 in 2006 and lost their first-round series to Anaheim. This is the third consecutive playoffs that the Stars will play a Game 7 — they beat Colorado in the second round in the NHL bubble in Canada two seasons ago and lost at St. Louis in a second-round series that went the full distance in 2019.

Roope Hintz and Michael Raffl also scored for the wild-card Stars, and Tyler Seguin added an empty-netter in the final minute. Jake Oettinger, their 23-year-old goalie who had never started a playoff game before this series, stopped 36 shots.

Markstrom also had 36 saves.

Pacific Division champion Calgary had tied the game at 2 with 8:01 left in the second period on a goal by Mikael Backlund, which came 1 second after the end of what officially went down as another unsuccessful power play in this series when both teams have struggled with a man advantage.

That made the Flames 0 for 2 on the power play in the game, to match Dallas at 2 for 21 in the series.

The Stars made it 2 for 22 midway through the third period when Joe Pavelski had an almost point-blank shot that ricocheted off Markstrom’s skate that was on the line.

Backlund’s third goal of the series came on a slap shot, about four minutes after Johnny Gaudreau’s nifty pass across the front of the Dallas net to Michael Stone for the easy tip-in.

The Stars had a 2-0 lead about six minutes into the second period when Raffl finished off a wild play.

Joel Kiviranta was trying to follow up his own shot, even reaching back after skating past the net, while two Calgary skaters and Markstrom all went down on the ice. Defenseman Christopher Tanev was one of the ones down, and tried to push the puck away with his hand before Raffl was able to stuff it just inside the post

Hintz got his second goal of the series with 5:08 left in the first period, right after Oettinger withstood a flurry of shots at the other end.

Matthew Tkachuk and Gaudreau, both 100-point and 40-goal scorers in the regular season, got off quick shots in succession that had Oettinger scrambling and diving across the crease.

Once the Stars had the puck going the other way, Pavelski poked the puck behind him for the charging Hintz, who pushed the puck under the legs of Markstrom.

Calgary is 5-7 in Game 7s but has lost six of the last seven it has played. The only Game 7 victory for the Flames since 1990 was in the first round against Vancouver in 2004, before they then advanced to the Stanley Cup Final and lost to Tampa Bay in the seventh game.

Dallas is 6-8, including a Game 7 win over Colorado in the second round of the 2020 playoffs, when the Stars went on to make the Stanley Cup Final in the postseason played in a bubble in Canada because of the pandemic.

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