Nick Cousins’ overtime goal sends Panthers to Eastern Conference Final over Maple Leafs
Nick Cousins scored at 15:32 of overtime and Sergei Bobrovsky made 50 saves as the Florida Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series on Friday to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
Aaron Ekblad and Carter Verhaeghe each had a goal and an assist to help the Panthers build a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Morgan Rielly and William Nylander scored for the Maple Leafs, who had advanced in the playoffs for the first time in 19 years when they beat Tampa Bay in the first round. Rookie goalie Joseph Woll had 41 saves in his first home playoff start.
In the extra period, Cousins buried his second goal of the playoffs off the rush short-side on Woll to send the Panthers to the conference finals for the first time since 1996.
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Florida — the team with the fewest points to qualify for the postseason — won all three games in Toronto and improved to 6-1 on the road in the playoffs after upsetting the record-setting Boston Bruins. The Panthers will next face the Carolina Hurricanes, who also beat the New Jersey Devils in five games.
Woll was coming off a 24-save effort in a Game 4 win that avoided the sweep.
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The Maple Leafs now face an uncertain offseason despite its breakthrough against the Lightning. General manager Kyle Dubas doesn’t have a contract beyond June 30, while there have also been rumblings about the future of coach Sheldon Keefe. Nylander and Auston Matthews both have one year remaining on their contracts and can sign extensions as of July 1, while fellow star forward Mitch Marner’s no-movement clause kicks in the same day.
Toronto’s high-powered offense — including the so-called “Core Four” of Matthews, Nylander, Marner and John Tavares — scoring just three times in the series for a team that totaled just 14 goals over its final seven playoff games, including a paltry 10 against the Panthers.
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The Leafs finished the post-season 1-5 at home.