Cousins scores in OT to send Panthers into Eastern Conference final after 3-2 win over Maple Leafs
TORONTO (AP) — The Florida Panthers are moving on in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are going home again.
Nick Cousins scored at 15:32 of overtime and Sergei Bobrovsky made 50 saves as the Panthers beat the Maple Leafs 3-2 in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series on Friday night to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
Cousins buried his second goal of the playoffs off a pass from defenseman Radko Gudas on a rush short-side against Toronto rookie goalie Joseph Woll to send Florida to the conference finals for the first time since 1996.
“It’s one of those moments where you’ll grow up and tell your kids about (it),” said Cousins, who had 108 text messages when he checked his phone. “My daughter’s only 11 months old. I have something I get to tell her when she grows up.”
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.
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 also upsetting the record-setting Boston Bruins. The Panthers will next face the Carolina Hurricanes, who also beat the New Jersey Devils in five games.
“Nobody in the world thought we were going to be in this position,” said Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk, who was named as one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP before the game. “We don’t care what anybody’s opinion is.”
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.
“You’re disappointed,” Rielly said. “You feel for your teammates, you feel for everybody.”
Woll was coming off a 24-save effort in a Game 4 win that avoided the sweep.
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.
“It’s hard ... it’s hard to win,” Matthews said. “We know that more than anybody. It’s a tough one.”
Asked about what the future hols, Marner said: “It’s not up to us, but we got a lot of belief in this group.”
Toronto’s high-powered offense — including the so-called “Core Four” of Matthews, Nylander, Marner and John Tavares — scored 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.
“Still sinking in that the result wasn’t what we wanted,” Tavares said.
The Maple Leafs finished the post-season 1-5 at home.
“It’s gonna take time for the sting of this series to wear off,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “A missed opportunity for our group. ... We had a team good enough to win the Stanley Cup. We didn’t do that.”
Florida went up 1-0 on a power play at 3:31 of the opening period when Ekblad blasted a one-timer for his first on a shot that handcuffed Woll after the goalie made a flurry of early stops.
The Maple Leafs pushed back and had a couple of terrific chances on a pair of man advantages, but couldn’t solve Bobrovsky.
Verhaeghe then got his fifth on a one-timer of his own with 3:42 left in the first after Toronto defenseman Timothy Liljegren fumbled the puck at his blue line to make it 2-0.
Rielly’s point shot made its way through a crowd in front at 7:50 of the second for his fourth to cut the Panthers' lead in half.
Toronto appeared to tie things with 2:49 remaining in the period when Rielly looked to have pushed the puck over the line in close off the rush. The call on the ice of no goal stood following a long video review — the officials deemed the play dead prior to the puck crossing the line — which prompted some fans to litter the ice with drinks, water bottles and rally towels.
Marner hit the post on a shot that took a deflection shortly after play resumed.
Nylander tied it with 4:37 left in the third as he took a pass from Tavares in stride and beat Bobrovsky from a tight angle upstairs. It was his fourth goal of the postseason to spark wild celebrations inside a frothing Scotiabank Arena — and the chaotic street party outside in Maple Leaf Square.
However, the Maple Leafs couldn't get another goal.
Friday marked exactly 17 years since Panthers coach Paul Maurice was named to the same post with the Maple Leafs. He lasted two seasons in Toronto before getting fired following the 2007-08 campaign.
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