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Sweep! Panthers beat Hurricanes to reach Stanley Cup Final for second time ever

SUNRISE — The Panthers barely reached the postseason, clinching their playoff berth two days before their regular-season finale. The snuck into the bracket as the No. 8 seed and were the heavy underdog against the record-setting Boston Bruins in the first round.

Florida shook off all those low expectations, and now the Panthers are four victories away from raising the Stanley Cup for the first time ever following a 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, completing a conference-finals sweep at FLA Live Arena on Wednesday and sending Florida to the Final for the first time since 1996.

Matthew Tkachuk scored the game-winning goal with only 4.3 seconds remaining in overtime, sending the Panthers’ fans into delirious applause.

In a series dominated by goalies, both teams found the net with relative frequency on Wednesday. The Panthers got off to a quick start, with winger Anthony Duclair scoring from left side of the goal just 41 seconds into the game. Later in the first period, Hart Trophy finalist Matthew Tkachuk took advantage of an opportunity directly in front of Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen, finding the five-hole to put Florida up 2-0. It was the first time either team had a two-goal lead in the series.

However, the two-goal lead did not last long, as Hurricanes center Paul Stastny scored late in the first period to cut Florida’s lead back to one. Winger Teuvo Teravainen knotted the game at two early in the second period.

But the Panthers would not be denied. Ryan Lomberg put the Panthers back ahead in the second half, getting a perfect feed from Colin White and shooting into a wide-open side of the net. Florida held onto the lead Lomberg gave them until the final minutes of the third period when Jesper Fast scored from point-blank range in front of Sergei Bobrovsky.

Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who had not allowed a goal in 67 shot attempts entering Game 4, did surrender three goals on 39 Hurricanes shot attempts, but he made several crucial saves to preserve the Panthers’ lead.

Florida will face either the Vegas Golden Knights or the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final. Vegas currently leads Dallas 3-0 in the Western Conference finals.

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