Nick Cousins’ overtime goal sends Panthers to Eastern Conference final over Maple Leafs

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Nick Cousins ​​scored at 15:32 of overtime and Sergei Bobrovsky made 50 saves as the Florida Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series on Friday to advance to the final of the Eastern Conference.

Aaron Ekblad and Carter Verhaeghe each had a goal and an assist to help the Panthers build a 2-0 first-period lead.

Morgan Rielly and William Nylander scored for the Maple Leafs, who had advanced to the playoffs for the first time in 19 years when they beat Tampa Bay in the first round. Rookie goaltender Joseph Woll had 41 saves in his first home playoff start.

In the extra period, Cousins ​​buried his second playoff goal on shortside Woll to send the Panthers to the conference finals for the first time since 1996.

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Florida Panthers forward Nick Cousins ​​(21) celebrates scoring the game-winning goal in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs in game five of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Florida, the team with the fewest points to qualify for the postseason, won all three games in Toronto and improved to 6-1 on the road in the playoffs after defeating the record-setting Boston Bruins. The Panthers next face the Carolina Hurricanes, who also beat the New Jersey Devils in five games.

Woll was coming off a 24-save effort in a Game 4 victory that avoided the sweep.

Panthers celebrate goal

Florida Panthers players gather around forward Carter Verhaeghe (23) to celebrate his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first period of game five of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

THE STARS ARE CLOSER TO THE WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS WITH GAME 5 WIN OVER KRAKEN

The Maple Leafs now face an uncertain offseason despite their breakthrough against the Lightning. General manager Kyle Dubas is out of contract past June 30, while there have also been rumors about the future of coach Sheldon Keefe. Nylander and Auston Matthews have one year remaining on their contracts and can sign extensions starting July 1, while star forward Mitch Marner’s no-movement clause takes effect the same day.

Toronto’s high-powered offense, including the so-called «Core Four» of Matthews, Nylander, Marner and John Tavares, scored just three times in the series for a team that totaled just 14 goals in its last seven playoff games, including a measly 10 against the Panthers.

Florida Panthers celebrate elimination of Toronto Maple Leafs

The Florida Panthers celebrate as the Toronto Maple Leafs are eliminated by the Florida Panthers in five games with a 3-2 overtime loss in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. May 12, 2023. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

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The Leafs finished the postseason 1-5 at home.

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