Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 32 shots for his first career playoff shutout, Sam Reinhart scored a power-play goal midway through the second period and the Florida Panthers moved one win away from a most improbable trip to the Stanley Cup final by blanking the Carolina Hurricanes 1-0 on Monday night.
Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett had the assists on the Reinhart goal for Florida, which now leads the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final 3-0. The Panthers haven’t played for the Stanley Cup since 1996, but can clinch a trip to the title round with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday.
This marks the 205th time that a team has taken a 3-0 series lead in NHL playoff history. Of the first 204, 200 went on to win the series. The Panthers are 2-0 when taking the first three games of a series; the Hurricanes are 0-5 when dropping the first three.
It wasn’t a perfect night for Florida, however. Captain Aleksander Barkov left with about seven minutes left in the first period with a lower-body injury and did not return, even though the team listed him as questionable.
Bobrovsky got the shutout in his 58th playoff start. He is now 10-1 in his last 11 appearances and has been almost perfect in the last eight games.
Going back to Game 1 of Round 2 against Toronto, Bobrovsky has not allowed more than two goals in any contest, with 296 saves on 309 shots.
Frederik Andersen stopped 16 shots for Carolina. The Hurricanes pulled him with 3:22 left, desperate for the tying goal, but barely tested Bobrovsky the rest of the way.
It was the first East final game in the Panthers’ current arena – the franchise’s only other time going this deep into the playoffs was 1996, when it played in Miami at a building that was demolished long ago.
It also likely was the first time that they played with the Wanamaker Trophy in attendance. Newly crowned PGA champion Brooks Koepka – a South Florida native and Panthers fan – put on a jersey and brought the big silver cup to the game.
The crowd roared when they saw him displaying the trophy he won Sunday. Of course, there is another silver trophy that Panthers fans would prefer seeing someone in their jersey hoisting before too long.
And the eighth-seeded Panthers are only five wins away now, tantalizingly close to the trip to the final – a trip that few could have seen coming after barely making the playoffs and then having to get past a record-setting Boston team in Round 1 and Toronto in Round 2.
A pair of overtime wins in Carolina, with Tkachuk getting the winner both nights, and the win Monday now have Florida on the brink of June hockey.
AROUND THE RINK
Jeff Conine, who won two World Series titles with the then-Florida Marlins, beat the drum to get the crowd going just before game time. … It was the Panthers’ 98th game of the season. This will be the second season in which Florida has more than 100 games; the most was 104 in the 1995-96 season that ended in the Stanley Cup final. … Carolina was blanked for the seventh time this season, with two of those coming at Florida. The Hurricanes lost 3-0 in Sunrise on Nov. 9.
There has been 261 minutes, 38 seconds of hockey in this series – just over 13 periods, thanks to all the overtimes – and neither team has led by more than one goal at any time.
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