Maybe cats really do have nine lives.
“We’re the cats. We have whatever lives we have,” Florida Panthers center Carter Verhaeghe told TNT moments after Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.
“It’s awesome. It shows how great our team is. The guys on this team have no quit in them.”
Verhaeghe preserved Florida’s unbeaten record in overtime this postseason, sliding a wrister past Golden Knights goaltender Adin Hill 4:27 into overtime at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida.
The Panthers are 7-0 in overtime this postseason and trail 2-1 in the series.
Their victory Thursday is the first for the franchise in a Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers were swept in their only other appearance, against Colorado in 1996.
“We’ve been in this position before. We know what the ending was going to be like,” Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk told TNT. “We knew we were going to get that win, but we just didn’t know how. And that was a wild way to get it.”
Perhaps no more wild than the other six overtime victories that have helped propel Florida to this point.
The Panthers staved off elimination with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of their first-round series, then won Game 7 in overtime 4-3. Twice Florida required overtime to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the ensuing round, earning 3-2 victories in Games 3 and 5.
Then there was the four-overtime marathon in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes, from which the Panthers prevailed 4-3. A 2-1 overtime victory followed in Game 2 en route to to their sweep — and berth in the Stanley Cup Final opposite the Golden Knights.
Never mind that the Panthers were outscored 12-4 during Games 1 and 2 in Las Vegas.
“At the end of the day, nobody really cares how we got here. It’s a 2-1 series now,” Tkachuk told reporters. “We came into this game just wanting to win one game, and next game it’s the exact same thing.”
The series was nearly 3-0 in favor of the Knights amid another lackluster offensive outing by the Panthers.
But goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was impeccable at even strength, surrendering a pair of power-play goals and stopping the other 25 shots he faced after the Knights chased him from the net in Game 2.
His heroics between the pipes paved the way on the opposite end for Tkachuk, who slammed home a rebound with 2:13 to play to tie the game at 2-2 with Bobrovsky on the bench for an extra attacker.
Tkachuk has four game-winning goals this postseason.
“They had all counted us out before the Final even started,” Tkachuk said. “We know what that end goal wants to be for us. We don’t know how we’re going to get there, but we’re going to do everything we can to get there.”
A liability in regulation, Florida’s penalty kill successfully thwarted a power play to start the extra session, setting the stage for Verhaeghe’s game-winner. Coach Paul Maurice told reporters the Panthers were “working for one shot” in overtime.
“We’ve been good at that,” he said.
That they have.
Panthers center Sam Bennett feathered a perfect pass to Verhaeghe, who slid into the slot to effectively extend the series.
“We’ve been so good in overtime,” Verhaeghe said. “To win in overtime in front of our home fans, it gives us a little bit of momentum.”