Carter Verhaeghe scored in overtime as the Florida Panthers eliminated the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

One NHL playoff streak ended while another just kept going.

Florida ended the 26-year playoff drought streak with a 4-3 overtime win over the Washington Capitals in Game 6 on Friday night. The Panthers have not won a playoff series since 1996, when they appeared in a Stanley Cup Finals.

“[That series win] will be a long time coming,” said Jonathan Huberdeau, who scored three points in the series against Washington. Now we can continue with everything.”

Florida, advanced thanks to OT game winner Carter Verhaeghe, now meets the winner between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round. Game 7 of this series is scheduled for Saturday at 7pm ET.

While Florida finally clinched a win in the playoff series, Washington continued to bow to the playoffs early. The loss made for four straight first-round exits for Washington, who haven’t made the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018.

“[It’s] a kinda f—ed up situation,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said of the team’s dry spell. “I think you can see how we played against the best team in the regular season. We have it, but we just carry it away. It is up to us. It’s me, clean [Nicklas Backstrom]on [TJ Oshie]on [John Carlson]. It’s in everyone.”

“We really gave them the series,” Backstrom added.

However, Washington did not make Florida any easier. The Capitals struggled to get their start in these playoffs, coming up 8th against the reigning Presidents Trophy winners. Florida dominated the league with offense from the start and led the franchise record 122 points.

However, the Capitals gave Florida everything they could and went 2-1 up after Game 3.

In fact, Washington won Game 1 and Game 3 by an aggregate score of 10-3, pushing Florida netminder Sergei Bobrovsky to the limit and challenging Florida’s top-flight forward. In Game 5, the Capitals also took a 3-0 lead, but let them slip and landed on their own back wall.

That was a major blow to the Panthers. This not only gave them a high hand in the series, but also silenced some of Washington’s burgeoning confidence ahead of a crucial Game 6 in their own building.

“These things you have to go through to really feel them,” said Panthers caretaker coach Andrew Brunette of dealing with adversity. “You must have heartache. You find how hard it is, you understand it and you are resilient. When you see the reward like they saw tonight, it’s all worth it.

“We took the punch, we stood up and started hitting back.”

Washington even tried everything in Game 6 to prevent Florida from going on, eventually scoring to force overtime and forcing the Panthers to work for the series win.

The Capitals were ahead of the board in that game as well, as Nic Dowd defeated Bobrovsky early in the second period.

But Ryan Lomberg reacted quickly for Florida, leading 2-2 into the third period.

The Capitals kept up the pressure and Backstrom put them back in front in less than two minutes after that final frame. Claude Giroux picked up his third postseason for Florida by halftime, and captain Aleksander Barkov got the go-ahead for the Panthers late in the third game.

Verhaeghes game-winner for Florida was his sixth goal of the postseason. He initially left the game with apparent injuries but returned to play hero for the Panthers. In doing so, Verhaeghe became the first NHL player since David Krejci in 2011 to score three straight game-winning goals in the playoffs, and he became the first player in Florida franchise history to score multiple OT playoff game winners in a streak .

The Panthers are now entering the second round, holding the poor designation of the only playoff team not to score a power play goal. Florida recorded a 0-for-19 against Washington with the extra man after having the fifth-best power play in the league (24.4%) in the regular season.