The Florida Panthers swept the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday to advance to their second Stanley Cup Final in franchise history and first since 1996.
The no. 8 seeded Panthers beat the Hurricanes 4-3 to become the first team in NHL history to enter the postseason as the lowest-seeded club and sweep a best-of-seven series to book a spot in the final.
Florida went to work early, scoring just 41 seconds into the first period through Anthony Duclair, who rebounded his own shot into the top of the goal. The advantage was doubled with 9:37 left in the first as Matthew Tkachuk scored his third goal of the series.
The Hurricanes responded, however, first with Paul Stastny’s smart finish from under goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s chest and then equalizing early in the second period on Teuvo Teravainen’s goal.
Florida retook the lead halfway through the second as Ryan Lomberg forced a Carolina turnover and some sharp thinking from Colin White and Eric Staal to sweep into an open net. That looked to be enough to secure passage to the final, but Jesper Fast tied things up with just over three minutes left in the game.
With the game looking set for overtime, the Panthers turned once again to Tkachuk – who calmly scored the winning goal with just 4.3 seconds remaining as the Panthers fans inside the FLA Live Arena went wild. It was Tkachuk’s third game-winning goal of the series.
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) reacts as a puck hit by Florida Panthers left wing Matthew Tkachuk (not shown) goes into the net with seconds to spare. – Wilfredo Lee/AP
Florida won each game in the series by one goal.
The Panthers also became the third franchise in league history to complete their first-ever best-of-seven sweep during the round prior to the final.
Florida’s run to the Stanley Cup has been unlikely, given its status as a lowest-seeded team and the historic nature of its opposition. The Panthers bested the Boston Bruins in the first round, despite Boston breaking the NHL regular season record for most wins (65) and most points (135) in a single season.
Florida then defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games in the second round.
The Panthers will meet either the Vegas Golden Knights or the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final. The Golden Knights currently lead the Western Conference Final 3-0.
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