Panthers star gets hurt before Game 5 against Rangers even begins

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Hours before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers later Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, Florida Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe was being stitched up after taking a puck to the face during the morning skate.

Whether that’s a bad omen for the Panthers or a good one depends on how you look at it. It could be a bad omen that one of their top playoff performers is getting hurt before the game even begins. Or it could be a positive sign that that the damage is minimal and nothing more serious — like being struck in the eye, for example — took place.

Panthers coach Paul Maurice confirmed that Verhaeghe received stitches but will be good to go in the crucial contest against the Rangers, with the best-of-7 series tied 2-2. Verhaeghe was hit by the puck after it deflected off goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. The 28-year-old forward exited the ice holding a towel to his face.

The Panthers shut out the Rangers 3-0 in the series opener at MSG before losing Game 2 in New York in overtime, 2-1. Games 3 and 4 of the series each went to overtime in South Florida, the Rangers winning 5-4 in Game 3 before the Panthers tied the series Tuesday with a 3-2 victory.

Related: 3 reasons for Rangers optimism ahead of Game 5 against Panthers

Rangers must find way to slow down Carter Verhaeghe in playoff series

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Verhaeghe has had a terrific series and postseason for the Panthers. He leads all players in this series with six points (three goals, three assists), including a goal in Game 4 on the power play. In Game 3, he had two assists, seven shots on goal and a whopping 20 shot attempts.

It’s not just the Rangers who’ve struggled to slow Verhaeghe down in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He is tied for third in the NHL with nine playoff goals and his 17 points are tied for seventh most. He leads the Panthers in goals, is tied for first with four power-play goals and is tied for second in points, two behind Matthew Tkachuk (19).

Verhaeghe carries a five-game point streak into Thursday, dating to Game 6 of the second round against the Boston Bruins. He opened the playoffs with a five-game point streak, notching at least one in each game in the first round against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This is nothing new for Verhaeghe, who has 49 points (24 goals, 25 assists) in 52 postseason games since joining the Panthers in 2020-21.

Maybe the most shocking stat is that the Rangers and Panthers have played three consecutive overtime goals and Verhaeghe didn’t score an overtime winner in any of them. Verhaeghe is tied for third all-time in NHL history with five overtime goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, trailing only Joe Sakic (8) and Maurice “Rocket” Richard (6).

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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