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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Panthers Need to Keep It Up against New York Rangers

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Matthew Tkachuk, center, celebrates Carter Verhaeghe’s third-period goal (hidden) with Niko Mikkola, Brandon Montour, and Anton Lundell. // Photo by Sean R. Cushing

NEW YORK — After a 3-0 Game 1 win over the New York Rangers, captain Sasha Barkov put it bluntly that the Florida Panthers played their style of hockey.

“That’s our style of game,” Barkov said. “We’re going to play as hard as possible, stay on the puck offensively, and I think we can do that a little better.”

But what exactly does that mean?

“Win 1-0, be physical, go forecheck,” Matthew Tkachuk said. “I guess that was your ideal road win for us in how we want to play.

“We’re very comfortable in low-scoring games, we have a lot of offensive guys on the team, but guys are bought into a certain style of play that has worked for us and has to keep working for us. That’s the best way to win in the playoffs. It’s a hard style to play but it’s hard to play against.”

The Panthers have grown comfortable doing so all playoffs, coming up with timely defensive plays while grinding their opponents down with fast, heavy forechecking.

Throughout the playoffs, the Panthers seemed to have that extra bit of energy and tenacity that their opponents have not been able to keep up with.

And that extra bit of juice stems from just how the Panthers came back to training camp following their exit from the Stanley Cup Final last season.

In the shortened offseason, multiple players came back leaner and faster with an added bit of physicality to their game.

Selke Trophy-winning captain Barkov was one of them, Sam Reinhart did the same and followed that up with a 50-goal season.

But those adjustments were made with the postseason in mind and they came back strong.

“Last year, they survived it. And we talked about it all year how hard it was, that we survived it and that it was a sign of strength,” coach Paul Maurice said. “This year, our training camp was exactly the same as last year’s. The exact same drills to the minute. I know exactly the length of the skates and how hard they skated, so we can kind of measure everything with those chips and they worked harder.

“They put more effort and they pushed themselves harder this year than last year and I wasn’t screaming at them to do it. And that’s when you go to the bench and you’re like ‘OK, these guys are a focused group right from the start.’”

Maurice could tell his team was different right then and there.

When he lined up 10 pucks at center ice for his signature bag skate at the end of each of the five days of training camp, Maurice knew his team was ready for it this time.

“The first one they’re looking at you with big eyes like ‘When is this going to end? Again’?” Maurice said.

“This year, they kinda go ‘OK, we know it’s going to suck’ and by the time they get to that sixth or seventh puck, they start cheering for each other and it kind of binds them.”

That built-up level of work ethic and stamina has allowed them to thrive in big moments and outlast opponents through tough ones.

But it will not be easy against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers.

Friday’s Game 2 may very well be the biggest test of the Eastern Conference final for the Panthers.

In each series the Panthers played in this year, the loser of Game 1 has come out and played its best game with fire.

Tampa Bay gave Florida a tough fight that it ended outlasting in Round 1; the Panthers bounced back from an embarrassing Game 1 loss to blow out the Bruins in the Game 2 of the previous round.

Given that history, Florida is ready to face New York’s best.

“We will assume then that the loser of Game 1 plays their best game in Game 2 and we are going to have to be that good [Friday],” Maurice said. “Because both teams are still fresh. Before last night, we played one game in about seven days, it was kind of the same for the Rangers; they’re fresh, so one game doesn’t hurt anybody.

“They are going to be going tomorrow and they are going to be fast. And then we won’t look at it as a game. There is going to be a block of time for all four teams left where they own the game. There was a stretch of time where the Rangers didn’t get a shot but there were also stretches of time where they were on us pretty good.

“Don’t try to play all of those 60 minutes in one and try to manage those blocks of time when the other team is rolling.”

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

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1) V. NEW YORK RANGERS (MET1)
Panthers lead Best-of-7 Series 1-0
GAME 2
  • When: Friday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
  • National TV: ESPN
  • Streaming: ESPN+/Hulu
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Series Schedule — Game 1: Panthers 3, Rangers 0; Game 2:Panthers at Rangers, Friday 8 (ESPN); Game 3:Rangers at Panthers, Sunday 3 (ABC); Game 4: Rangers at Panthers, Tuesday 8 (ESPN): Game 5*: Panthers at Rangers, Thursday May 30, 8 (ESPN); Game 6*: Rangers at Panthers, Saturday June 1, 8 (ABC); Game 7*: Panthers at Rangers, Monday June 3, 8 (ESPN). (*) — If Necessary.
  • How They Got Here: Florida d. Tampa Bay 4-1, Boston 4-2; Rangers d. Washington 4-0, Carolina 4-2.
  • Last Season vs. Rangers — Regular Season: Rangers won 3-0
  • This Season (Panthers Won 2-1) — At Florida: Panthers 4 Rangers 3 (Dec. 29). At MSG: Panthers 4, Rangers 2 (March 4); Rangers 4, Panthers 3 OT (March 23).
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Rangers lead 61-34-8, 6 ties
  • Postseason History: Rangers Lead 1-0 (1997 1st)

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