Will stunning OT win give Panthers ‘supercharged momentum’ vs. Golden Knights?

The Florida Panthers crowd around centre Carter Verhaeghe (23), third from left, after he scored the game winning goal during overtime in Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final, Thursday, June 8, 2023, in Sunrise, Fla. The Florida Panthers defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP Photo)

SUNRISE, Fla. – Other than as a contraption to tighten National Hockey League standings, awarding the same points for a win in overtime as a win in regulation has never made much sense. A win in regulation time, more definitive and harder to achieve, simply should be worth more.

But in the Stanley Cup playoffs, an overtime win feels like the most valuable kind.

Think about the emotions involved – for both sides – when the Florida Panthers, outplayed and struggling most of the night just to generate shots, tied the Vegas Golden Knights with 2:13 remaining in regulation time Thursday, then stole the game outright, 3-2, when Carter Verhaeghe’s shot from distance went past goalie Adin Hill at 4:27 of overtime.

Losing like that would be a kick in the gut during the regular season, but you move on and get ready for the next opponent, knowing that over an 82-game schedule those kinds of games will go for and against you.

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The difference in the playoffs is nobody moves on. Unless the OT ends the series, the same teams play again two nights later carrying whatever mental baggage they bear.

Instead of trailing 0-3 in the Stanley Cup Final and planning for a funeral, the Panthers are suddenly down just 2-1 and can actually tie the series in Game 4 on Saturday.

Games like Thursday’s create massive swells in emotion, which sometimes do not even out over a Stanley Cup tournament, no matter how much coaches exhort their players to turn the page and get ready for the next game.

“Overtime wins are more fun. They are, right?” Florida coach Paul Maurice told reporters on Friday in the same interview room at FLA Live Arena where he had spoken just after midnight, about 13 hours earlier. “We haven’t over-celebrated them, but they are more fun, right? You win a game in regulation and half your team kind of walks off the bench … and they skate and tap pads. And it’s fun; it’s a good thing.

“In the underdog role, you need to find energy places, so we allow them to take some energy after (overtime wins) and enjoy it.”

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The Panthers have been harvesting energy from overtime like a Tesla plugged directly into the turbines of the Three Gorges Dam.

After winning only four times in overtime during the regular season, Florida is now 7-0 in extra time during its improbable playoff run.

The Panthers were an 18th-place team during the regular season. If there was such a thing as a playoff record in regulation time, the Panthers would be 6-6-7 this spring — .500. But they are 7-0 in OT, already tied for the second-most post-regulation wins in NHL playoff history.

In the regular season, these feel like lesser wins. They’re cheaper wins. Literally, they are marked with an asterisk by the league in game logs.

But in the playoffs, they’re priceless. They can win you the Stanley Cup.

The 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens are the only team to win more overtime games in one tournament than Florida. The Canadiens “tied” their way to Canada’s last Stanley Cup, collecting 10 of their 16 wins that spring during sudden-death play. Montreal was 10-1 in OT – and 10-0 after losing their first tie-breaker – and nine of its final 12 victories came beyond regulation time.

Nobody here is suggesting the Canadiens didn’t deserve that championship. They were a better team during that regular season than the Panthers were this year, had a spectacular goalie in Patrick Roy and lost only four games in the playoffs. But all those OT wins were emotional fuel for them, emotional wounds for the opposition.

Sergei Bobrovsky has been excellent in goal for Florida, and no skater has decided more games this spring than Panther Matthew Tkachuk.

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But where would this team, expected each round to lose against superior opponents, be without its ridiculous overtime record and the energy and self-belief those games have created?

“I hope there’s something else going on,” senior Panther Eric Staal said, when asked about the overtime phenomenon. “Obviously, we do have shooters. We’ve got guys that can score, we’ve got guys that are comfortable in a situation where they can be asked to bury one. We have some guys that have some game-breaking ability, and when you have that in your lineup, it takes one quick look. We saw that last night, but we saw it over the whole course of the playoffs.

“There’s guys in our room that are built for moments like that.”

Later, after talking about the need to move on and get ready for the next game, Staal concluded that Game 3’s late plot twist was “emotionally, you know, supercharged momentum for sure.”

“Overtime is a fun place for us because we have to scratch and claw to get it to overtime,” Maurice explained. “And I feel anyway — maybe this is a coach’s perspective — if you can get a game to overtime, in some ways your work is done. It’s not like 7-7 going into overtime, right? It’s a tight game, so for our team to get it there, a whole bunch of things had to happen. The goaltender had to be good, you had to play your ass off, you had to block shots, it wasn’t pretty. They had chances and you made the most of yours. Now you get to a point where it’s fun.

“That’s the feeling that I have on the bench from them. They’re looking forward to it, right? They’re there in the room between the third (period) and overtime chirping who gets to score the goal.”

And so far, it has been a Florida man. Every single time.

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