Quite simply, Claude Giroux was the difference Friday night.
The former Philadelphia Flyers captain had his hand in Florida’s last three goals as it rallied past Washington in overtime, 4-3, and captured its first series win since 1996.
Just 2:46 into overtime at Capital One Arena, Giroux set up Carter Verhaeghe for the game-winning backhander as the Panthers won the grueling series, four games to two. From behind the goal line, Giroux sent a great feed to Verhaeghe in front, and he became the 12th player in NHL history to score the winning goal in three straight playoff games.
In the six-game series, Verhaeghe had 12 points, including six goals.
“He’s hot right now,” Giroux said. “He’s flying out there, and I’m lucky enough to be playing with him.”
Verhaeghe had five points in Game 5 and got a kiss on the top of the helmet from Giroux.
Giroux scored the tying goal in the third period Friday, then set up the go-ahead goal as the Florida Panthers took a late 3-2 lead.
But with the goalie pulled, Washington’s T.J. Oshie scored a 6-on-4 power-play goal with 63 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 3-3. It was Oshie’s sixth goal of the series.
Florida regrouped and won it in overtime. The Cats will next play the Tampa-Toronto Game 7 survivor.
GO OFF G pic.twitter.com/8PhFL8uYnV
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) May 14, 2022
With 5:43 to go, he tapped a perfect pass to Florida captain Aleksander Barkov, who knocked in the go-ahead goal to give the Panthers their first lead of the night, 3-2.
But Oshie sent the game into overtime with his hard-fought goal in front, putting in a rebound after teammate Anthony Mantha hit the crossbar from in close.
Even though he has only been with the Panthers for less than two months, Giroux said he could sense a feeling of relief that Florida had won its first playoff series in 26 years.
“A lot of guys have talked about it. Not in a negative way, but just wanting to move on and go play a second round,” Giroux said. “I feel like we have a little momentum here.”
Giroux, 34, had seven points (three goals, four assists) in the six-game series against Peter Laviolette’s Caps. Laviolette, of course, was the Flyers coach when he called Giroux the “best player in the world” after he led a playoff-clinching win over Pittsburgh in 2012.
The player known as “G” had 23 points with Florida in 18 regular-season games this season.
Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky, another former Flyer, stopped 34 of 37 shots in regulation and notched the victory.
The Panthers had the most points in the NHL in the regular season. Now they have their sights set on continuing their Stanley Cup journey.
“Whoever we end up playing in Round 2, we just have to focus on ourselves,” Giroux said.
Giroux set a Florida record with three points in a series-clinching game; he scored his fifth career goal in a series-clincher. … Florida won the series despite going 0 for 19 on the power play. The Panthers had the NHL’s fifth-best PP (24.4%) in the regular season. … The Capitals have not gotten past the first round since winning the Cup in 2018. … Florida became the ninth team in the last 30 years to earn three or more consecutive comeback wins to close out a series.
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) May 14, 2022