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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Panthers Coming ‘In Waves,’ Swamping the Rangers

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Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov goes to celebrate with Sam Reinhart after scoring the game-winner early in overtime Tuesday night in Sunrise. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

If games were decided strictly by the numbers, the Florida Panthers would have already swept their series with the New York Rangers and would be waiting for their opponents in the Stanley Cup Final.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way.

As things stand, the best-of-7 series is now tied at 2; Game 5 is tonight at 8 p.m. in New York (ESPN).

After the first four games of the Eastern Conference final, Florida has outscored the Rangers 11-9 — and has outshot them 131-100.

The Panthers have gotten much more of their power play: 5-15 (33.3) vs. 1-11 (9.1).

Florida is also well ahead in offensive zone time.

The Panthers have also held New York’s star trio of Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, and Mika Zibanejad to a combined total of three assists.

Those three all belong to Panarin.

Despite all their good work, the Panthers have struggled to score goals against goalie Igor Shesterkin.

He has been magnificent, especially in the latter stages of Games 3 and 4 when the Panthers brought all they had. 

Coach Paul Maurice acknowledged that despite the one-sided statistics, this has been a series of one-goal games and can quickly shift.

“Either team could have won the series by now, four straight,” Maurice said. “It’s a save. That’s how tight it is.”

The Panthers must keep up the onslaught in New York at the very boisterous Madison Square Garden

“We defended hard, but they come at you in waves,” New York defenseman Adam Fox said. 

“They’re a good team. Credit to them. They’re more possessive in the offensive zone. We’ve got to wear them down a little bit.”

Rangers’ coach Peter Laviolette said  that Florida prevented his team from mounting a sustained offense in Game 4.

“We’re spending a little too much time playing defense,” he said, ”especially in the second period (when Florida outshot New York by a 15-5 margin). That happened last game as well and so we’re not able to move and generate the way we want to out there.

“They come at you hard. They dump a lot of pucks. They forecheck hard so we’re not spending time in the right zone.”

Matthew Tkachuk addressed the one-sided special teams’ play before the team left for New York after answering a few obligatory questions about the Chris Kreider mouthguard incident.

“We’ve been very confident with our power play all year,” he said. “It’s nice to see all of them go in. Even the [Sam Bennett] goal was right at the end of the power play, so both units are feeling good. A lot of it is being quick and whenwe’re quicker we are way better.”

Tkachuk said they are less concerned with position and moving the puck as quickly as possible.

Former Panther Vincent Trocheck and budding star Alexis Lafreniere have done most of the offensive damage for the Rangers and are not slowing down.

The Panarin, Kreider, Zibanejad trio can break out at any moment and cannot be ignored.

It’s now a best-of-3 series with the Rangers having home ice advantage.

Florida has been excellent on the road.

It should be a fun few days ahead.

For the most in-depth coverage of the Florida Panthers:

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1) V. NEW YORK RANGERS (MET1)
Best-of-7 Series Tied at 2
GAME 5

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