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Panthers reach Eastern Conference final for second straight year, eliminating Bruins in 6 games

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BOSTON (AP) — Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice watched his team escape one breakaway after another and still manage to eliminate the Boston Bruins in six games.

So he didn’t want to overanalyze the team’s second straight trip to the Eastern Conference final.

“In truth, some of it’s luck,” Maurice said Friday night after Florida beat Boston 2-1 to win their second-round playoff series. “We gave up four ‘A’ chances in the second period that we just got lucky on that they didn’t go in.

“And that’s kind of what it felt like on the bench: It didn’t feel in control; it didn’t feel methodical,” Maurice said. “Everybody had a plan, and then they spent the next six games trying to punch each other in the face.”

Defenseman Gustav Forsling scored the tiebreaking goal with 1:33 left, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 22 shots to help the Panthers knock the Bruins out of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

The Panthers advanced to the Eastern Conference final, where they will play the New York Rangers. Game 1 is Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

“I’m not doing that. I’m not doing anything with that,” Maurice said. “I need a day off.”

Anton Lundell scored for the Panthers and set up the game winner when his shot was deflected to the left side of the net. Forsling came in and beat Jeremy Swayman on the short side.

“I didn’t see it go in. I just saw someone else react. It was amazing,” said Forsling, who scored 10 goals this season — one of them a game winner. “I’m not usually the guy who scores the game-winning goal; I’m out there trying to defend. It’s nice to help your team win, but I’ll stick to defense.”

Florida won all three games in Boston this series and six straight playoff games at the TD Garden. The Panthers also beat the record-setting Bruins last year on their way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

“I would pay money to watch Boston and Florida play. If we did 82 games, there would be nothing left of these men. But it is hard and fast, highly skilled at times and brutal and violent at times,” Maurice said. “It is all of the best part of hockey, the Bruins series.”

Swayman stopped 26 shots for the Bruins. Pavel Zacha scored to give Boston a 1-0 lead late in the first period, but it was unable to beat Bobrovsky again. In the series, the Panthers outshot the Bruins 198-135.

Florida tied it with seven minutes left in the second, after a scramble in front of the Boston net that left DeBrusk on the ice. Lundell swooped into the slot and swept the puck past Swayman.

With the game tied and about three minutes remaining, Aleksander Barkov blocked a shot by David Pastrnak on a wide-open net.

“You want to talk about the highs and lows of emotions on the bench? That’s a gaping net and a legitimate block,” Maurice said. “We end up scoring the goal. It’s a little bit of chaos down there. … So it was quite the roller coaster.”

Boston missed several chances to add to its lead in the second period, including a breakaway by Pastrnak in the opening seconds.

“There are too many possible inflection points when you look at the Florida-Boston games for me to be that arrogant to sit here and say ‘well this is how we did it.’ I have no idea,” Maurice said. “You could take the last six wins that we have and we could lose every single one of them.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

By JIMMY GOLEN
AP Sports Writer

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