The Wraparound: Panthers looking to advance for first time in 26 years

Florida Panthers Playoffs
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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television information.

• Check in with all of Thursday’s NHL Stanley Cup playoff action with the NHL Rink Wrap right here

• The Lightning are not going away, forcing a Game 7 against the Maple Leafs with an OT win on Thursday

• We know of at least one Second Round matchup as the Blues beat the Wild on Thursday, advancing to play the Avalanche

The Florida Panthers are in uncharted territory. At least for them.

They enter Game 6 (7:30 p.m. ET; TBS, SN360, TVA Sports) against the Capitals with a 3-2 series lead and are looking to advance to the Second Round for the first time since their improbably Stanley Cup Final run in 1996. That is a span of 26 years without playing a game outside of the First Round.

Even more incredible than that, is that in those 26 years they have only had one series where they even had a chance to play in a game with a chance to advance. They had a 3-2 series lead against the New Jersey Devils in 2012 before losing Games 6 and 7 (both in overtime) to lose the series. In every other year dating back to 1996 the Panthers have either missed the playoffs entirely (the most common result) or lost their First Round series in five or six games, never even getting to a third win.

Now they have that chance, and it has been a journey in getting here.

They entered the playoffs as heavy favorites, got badly outplayed in the first three games, and faced a 2-1 series deficit in Game 4 on the road. In that Game 4 they were a matter of inches from facing a 3-1 series deficit until Garnet Hathaway‘s empty-net bid just missed, giving them a chance to tie the game with two minutes to play and setting the stage for Carter Verhaeghe to win the game in overtime.

In Game 5 they were facing a 3-0 deficit before storming back (again led by Verhaeghe) for a 5-3 win to regain control of the series. Now comes the difficult part: Getting that fourth win, on the road, in a hostile environment, against a veteran team that has been through everything there is to go through in the playoffs.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 First Round schedule, TV info]

There were a lot of reasons for concern for the Panthers earlier in this series but they have managed to fight through it and put themselves in a good position going into Game 6, and it is not the players that you would expect that are leading them. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau have been mostly quiet in this series offensively (at least by their standards) with Verhaeghe being the player to lead the offense (10 points in five games, including seven over the past two wins). Sometimes that is what the playoffs are all about when it comes to winning and advancing. Your superstars will not find the scoreboard every night and it can come down to whose depth players shine. Florida is getting that right now from Verhaeghe and it has given them a chance to advance for just the second time in franchise history.

NHL PLAYOFF GAMES TODAY

Game 6: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET — TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports (PIT leads 3-2): The Penguins get another chance to clinch their series against the Rangers after letting a two-goal lead late in the second period slip away on Wednesday night. The big question here, as it has been alll series, will be injuries. Sidney Crosby exited Wednesday’s game after taking a high hit from Jacob Trouba, while Tristan Jarry, Rickard Rakell, and Brian Dumoullin all remain day-to-day. Louis Domingue has held his own and done the best that could have been reasonably expected, but they really need better goaltending while Crosby’s availability might determine which way this series goes.

Game 6: Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET — TBS, SN360, TVA Sports (FLA leads 3-2): It could be a significant night for the Panthers as they try to do something they have not done in 26 years: Win a playoff series. They can not be happy with the way they have played overall and should be fortunate to even be in this position, but they are here and have to take advantage of it. This is the first time in a long time this team has had real expectations and a First Round loss here with this team would be a bitter disappointment given the regular season performance they had, winning the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history.

Game 6: Calgary Flames at Dallas Stars, 9:30 p.m. ET — TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports (CGY leads 3-2): The Stars are getting sensational goaltending from Jake Oettinger, but their offense is non-existent outside of their top line. Even that line has struggled, outside of a couple of big games from Joe Pavelski. Such is life in the playoffs against a Darryl Sutter coached team. This has been a tight, physical, close-checking, defensive series with superb goaltending at both ends of the ice and there is no reason to think that is going to change in Game 6. The key for the Stars is going to be finding a way to get that first goal.

SATURDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 7: Boston Bruins at Carolina Hurricanes (Series tied 3-3), 4:30 p.m. ET — ESPN, Sportsnet East, Sportsnet West, Sportsnet Pacific, SN360, TVA Sports
Game 7: Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs (Series tied 3-3), 7 p.m. ET — TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports
Game 7: Los Angeles Kings at Edmonton Oilers (Series tied 3-3), 10 p.m. ET — ESPN, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports

PHT’s 2022 Stanley Cup previews
Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

Hurricanes vs. Bruins
• Penguins vs. Rangers
• Panthers vs. Capitals
Oilers vs. Kings
Flames vs. Stars

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info
First Round, Stanley Cup predictions
Why your team will (and will not) win the Stanley Cup

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    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

    mark stone surgery
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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

    brunette dui
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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”