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Florida Panthers continue unreal run, further shaping perspective on Bruins' collapse

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins shouldn't have lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Boston Bruins shouldn't have blown a 3-1 series lead. The Boston Bruins shouldn't have blown a 3-2 lead in the final minutes of Game 7.

None of that is up for dispute.

However, as the Florida Panthers -- the team that, of course, vanquished that historic Bruins team -- continue to roll along on what appears to be a very special playoff run, there is some context being added to that shocking first-round result in Boston.

For the Panthers, the latest chapter in this unlikely run was written over the course of six hours in Raleigh on Thursday night/Friday morning. Florida shook off an overturned goal in the first overtime period in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 34 shots after regulation ended, and Matthew Tkachuk sent a lot of tired Hurricanes fans home in a sour mood when he scored the game-winning goal just 13 seconds before the contest would have headed into a fifth overtime period.

It was really something.

After more than 40 minutes of ice time, Tkachuk's celebration was a combination of Forrest Gump running through the band and right out of the stadium for Alabama and Derek Fisher exiting stage left after his buzzer-beater in 2004.

"Probably my favorite one so far in my life," Tkachuk said of that goal, his sixth overall and second post-regulation game-winner of the postseason.  

Brandon Montour, who had almost a full hour of ice time, had two golden opportunities to end the game. The first one came late in regulation, when Hurricanes knew where the puck had bounced off the glass, including goaltender Frederik Andersen. But Montour fired that puck directly at an unsuspecting Andersen. Montour got another chance in triple overtime, taking a pass on the goal mouth but sending a backhand bid into the butt end of Andersen's stick.

The Panthers also had to regroup after celebrating what they thought was the game-winning goal in the first overtime period, one that eventually was taken off the board due to goaltender interference.

Florida head coach Paul Maurice was quite miffed, though at this point, that may just be his natural state of existence.

The game really had the makings of a heartbreaker for the Panthers. Yet somehow, some way, the Panthers -- undoubtedly the grittiest team in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs -- found a way to earn a critical road victory in Game 1.

The Panthers have now won seven straight road games this postseason, dating back to Game 2 against Boston. They went 3-0 in Toronto, 3-1 in Boston, and they're now 1-0 in Carolina.

They are tough, to the point where it's fair to call them bullies. They are skilled, with Tkachuk and Carter Verhaeghe leading the way offensively. And they found stable goaltending from veteran Sergei Bobrovsky at the exact right time to go on this type of postseason run.

This isn't normal, but the Panthers are proving on a nightly basis that they are functioning on a different level at this moment in time.

As for the fatigue from a four-overtime game, Tkachuk found an easy way to cope.

"Definitely tired," he said, "but I think you're less tired when you win."

That much is undoubtedly true, and it'll be interesting to see how both the Panthers and Hurricanes come out on Saturday night for Game 2. It will not be easy for either team.

Regardless, the Panthers gained a huge advantage by mustering that game-winning goal to take a 1-0 series lead, and they're now 9-4 in the postseason, three wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

None of that helps soothe the disappointment of the Boston Bruins, who -- as everybody knows -- set NHL records for wins and points during the regular season. None of that meant that the Bruins were guaranteed a Stanley Cup or even in a spot in the Final ... but it did lead just about everyone to believe that the team would at least be winning a playoff series. They were too good not to. Or so we believed.

The Panthers proved that assumption wrong, leaving the city of Boston to grumble and throw tomatoes at the team that underachieved. And, again, the Bruins did underachieve. But this run by the Panthers is at least showing that it wasn't some strange fluke, and it wasn't a complete no-show. The Florida Panthers continue to prove that they've got something of a magic formula working for them during this postseason.

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