NHL: Panthers eliminate Leafs on Nick Cousins’ OT goal

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Nick Cousins scored at 15:32 of overtime and the visiting Florida Panthers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 Friday night to clinch their Eastern Conference second-round playoff series in five games.

Radko Gudas earned the assist on the second goal of the playoffs for Cousins, who made no mistake on his 21-foot wrist shot.

The Panthers advance to face the Carolina Hurricanes in the conference finals.

Florida captain Aleksander Barkov said, “It’s an unreal feeling right now. To go to the Eastern Conference finals is a big, big deal for us. That’s all I can think right now. It was a great effort by everyone.”

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 50 shots for Florida in a duel of goaltenders. Joseph Woll made 40 saves for Toronto.

Bobrovsky said, “It was special to play in the capital of hockey. It feels even more special to have the win.”

The Maple Leafs overcame a 2-0 disadvantage to tie the game in the third period on William Nylander’s goal.

Toronto killed off a Florida power play in the overtime.

The Panthers, who upset the league-leading Boston Bruins in the first round, won all three games in Toronto during the best-of-seven series. The Maple Leafs’ victory came in Game 4 on the road.

Aaron Ekblad and Carter Verhaeghe each had a goal and an assist for Florida.

Morgan Rielly scored for the Maple Leafs.

Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said, “Credit to the Florida Panthers. They come in here after knocking off the greatest regular-season team in NHL history and bring that momentum right in here. … This one stings.”

Nylander tied the game with his fourth goal of the playoffs on a 12-foot shot at 15:33 of the third period. John Tavares and TJ Brodie picked up assists.

Tavares, the Maple Leafs’ captain, said, “The belief never wavered … but hard to believe it’s over.”

Earlier, Ekblad netted his first of the playoffs on a 38-foot shot from the left circle during a power play at 3:31 of the first period. Gustav Forsling and Verhaeghe earned assists. Jake McCabe was off for high-sticking.

After taking the lead, Florida withstood two consecutive Toronto power plays.

Verhaeghe gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead at 16:18 of the first on a quick shot from the right circle off a pass by Anthony Duclair. It was his fifth goal of the playoffs. Ekblad also assisted.

Toronto led 13-12 in shots on goal after one period.

Rielly’s 60-foot shot was deflected by a Florida player past Bobrovsky for his fourth goal of the playoffs at 7:50 of the second period. Sam Lafferty and David Kampf earned assists.

Rielly thought he had tied the game at 17:11 of the second when the puck was jammed against Bobrovsky’s skate on the goal line, but it was determined that the whistle had blown.

At 17:49 of the second, Toronto’s Ryan O’Reilly had his tip hit the goal post.

Florida led 30-29 edge in shots on goal after two periods.

–Field Level Media

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