Verhaeghe's OT winner sends Panthers past Capitals for 1st series win since 1996

On the wrong side of a comeback effort this time, the Florida Panthers rebounded in overtime and made sure they wouldn't need to go home to finish their first-round series.

Zibanejad, Kreider help Rangers force Game 7 against Crosby-less Penguins

Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe (23) celebrates after scoring the game winning goal in a 4-3 win against the Capitals in overtime in Game 6 of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Washington on Friday. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

On the wrong side of a comeback effort this time, the Florida Panthers rebounded in overtime and made sure they wouldn't need to go home to finish their first-round series.

Carter Verhaeghe scored the OT winner to send the Panthers to the second round by beating the Washington Capitals 4-3 in Game 6 Friday night. It's the franchise's first playoff series victory since 1996 when Florida reached the Stanley Cup Final.

The Panthers are still eight wins from getting back to the final, but they will have home-ice advantage for their next series against either the cross-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning or the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Florida looked to be on the verge of a regulation victory when Gustav Forsling tripped Nicklas Backstrom with 1:09 left in the third period. T.J. Oshie scored 6 seconds into the Washington power play to send the sellout crowd of over 18,000 into a frenzy.

Those fans were silent after Verhaeghe scored his sixth goal of the series 2:46 into overtime. Verhaeghe, Florida's leading scorer in the series, missed the morning skate and was considered a game-time decision.

Trade-deadline acquisition Claude Giroux and captain Aleksander Barkov scored in the third period to put the Panthers ahead. Ryan Lomberg scored Florida's first goal, tying it 2:29 after Nic Dowd got the Capitals on the board.

Lomberg scoring validated interim coach Andrew Brunette's decision to insert him into the lineup in place of Anthony Duclair, who scored 31 goals during the regular season but had just one shot on goal so far in the series. The Panthers need offence wherever they can get it after again failing to score on the power play and extending their drought to 0 of 18 in the series.

Their most recent series win came June 1, 1996, when they beat Pittsburgh in Game 7 to advance to the final. The Panthers 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.

The Capitals have not won a playoff series since hoisting the Cup in 2018 and got knocked out in the first round at home for the third time in that span.

Zibanejad's helps Rangers force Game 7 vs. Pens

Chris Kreider's long slap shot bounced over Louis Domingue and into the net with 1:28 left and the New York Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 on Friday night to push their thrilling first-round series to a deciding Game 7.

Kreider's second of the game and fourth of the playoffs sent the series back to New York. Andrew Copp added an empty netter for good measure in the waning seconds. Game 7 is Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Mike Zibanejad had two goals and two assists and Adam Fox had four assists. Igor Shesterkin stopped 31 shots to win at PPG Paints Arena for the first time this series after getting chased by Pittsburgh in Games 3 and 4.

New York Rangers forwards Chris Kreider (20) and Mika Zibanejad (93) celebrate a goal during a 5-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

Bryan Rust, Evgeni Malkin and Jeff Carter scored for Pittsburgh. Domingue, who has become a local folk hero while filling in for injured Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith, made 33 saves but couldn't get a handle on Kreider's shot, which seemed to hit him high then popped up into the air and behind him before rolling into the net.

Pittsburgh played without captain Sidney Crosby, who sat out while dealing with an upper-body injury. His status going forward is uncertain.

For most of the early going in Game 6, it seemed the Penguins would find a way to advance without him.

The Penguins throttled Shesterkin in Games 3 and 4, ending his night early in relatively easy wins. The chants of "IIIIIIGOOORRRRR" started before the opening puck dropped, and the roars only grew more incessant after Pittsburgh scored twice in the first period to take a quick lead.

Carter used his 6-foot-3 frame to stretch for a backhand tap in front of the net that slipped by Shesterkin 14:12 into the first, the 18-year veteran's eight goals in 12 career playoff games since joining Pittsburgh at the 2021 trade deadline.

Rust, as close to a "closer" as there is for the Penguins then made it 2-0 just over 90 seconds later when he blasted home a one-timer off a cross-ice feed from Jake Guentzel. The score marked the 11th goal for Rust in a clinching or elimination game since making his postseason debut in 2016.

Pittsburgh, however, has struggled at times to maintain momentum after building a multiple-goal advantage. A three-goal lead disappeared in Game 3, though the Penguins recovered to win going away. A two-goal lead vanished in New York in Game 5.

It was much of the same in Game 6. This time, it was Zibanejad who led the charge. He scored twice in a span of 76 seconds to tie things up. The first came just 5 seconds after Pittsburgh's Evan Rodrigues was called for roughing New York's Ryan Lindgren after taking exception to a hit along the boards. Zibanejad blasted home a one-timer from the right circle to give New York a much-needed jolt.

Zibanejad then pulled the Rangers even 1:16 later with another laser, this one from just above the right circle. Kreider gave the Rangers the lead 13:48 into the second by jamming home a rebound off a shot by Zibanejad, with Shesterkin also getting an assist on the play.

Just as they did in Game 5, the Penguins responded as Malkin extended his stick to intercept a pass at the Pittsburgh blue line. The Russian star then beat New York defenceman K'Andre Miller to the puck before flicking a wrist shot by Shesterkin for his 68th career playoff goal.

This one set up another taut finish in a series that began with a triple-overtime classic in Game 1 and is now set up for a memorable deciding game back at the Garden.

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