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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Sam Reinhart Gets His Shot. Florida Panthers Go Home, Baby

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Sam Reinhart is congratulated by Sasha Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk after his OT game-winner against the Rangers on Tuesday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SUNRISE — In a most crucial moment of the series, Sam Reinhart demolished a pass from Sasha Barkov in overtime to give his Florida Panthers a 3-2 win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final.

For those who have watched the Panthers even a bit, Reinhart’s one-timer from the slot looked very familiar.

Reinhart’s shot beat Igor Shesterkin 1:12 into overtime and tied the best-of-7 series at 2.

“Well, if he’s open, obviously, we want to look for him and he’s in the slot and just get the puck to him,” Barkov said.

“Obviously, he’s scored a lot of goals from there and works really hard in the practices shooting from there, so you want to get the puck to him and that’s what happened.”

Teams had that aspect of the Panthers figured out during the playoffs, holding Reinhart to just one power-play goal entering Game 3 of the second round.

Reinhart seems to have found his groove.

After scoring two on the power play in Game 3 — both on backhand goals after he created some space on his own — the confidence was there again despite the loss.

“Confidence was good,” Reinhart said. “We’ve been going a little bit quicker, at a higher pace, a faster pace the last couple, so the confidence is there. It was good composure early to withstand their pressure. That’s how the middle of the ice opens up.”

The Panthers dialed up their patented power play set-up perfectly, with Bakrov having a wide-open lane to find Reinhart from below the goal line after 13 seconds of quick, efficient passing off the draw.

Ryan Lindgren could only scramble back and dive to make an effort to stop it as Reinhart wired the feed from Barkov past Shesterkin.

“It was about as well executed as you can, and their pressure was brilliant. There wasn’t a mistake there,” coach Paul Maurice said.  

“It was just two really good teams and we made the play. Got a version of it earlier in the game and we didn’t connect on it and I think the second and third period kind of got us to an emotional level where you’re just playing and it’s as fast as you can. I think that’s what we saw there. That was just a bunch of elite guys with phenomenal hands.”

Special teams play defined the game on both ends of the ice.

To start, it was Vincent Trocheck who broke an 0-for-8 power play streak for the Rangers with a blast of a one-timer off of a feed from Artemi Panarin.

That power play helped break up a stretch where Florida had New York pinned in its own zone and the Rangers ended up picking up nine of their 12 first period shots on two opportunities on the power play.

The Panthers got their chance — and couldn’t capitalize — when Lindgren took a holding penalty 6:42 into the second.

Sam Bennett jammed home a loose puck three seconds after the power play expired to tie the game at 1 following a barrage of chances from the second unit.

And that’s where the confidence started to grow.

“We wanted it so bad, I think we were gripping our sticks a little tight in the first. And then we started to loosen up and just relax, started making more plays, got back to our game that we’ve had success with all year,” Bennett said.

”It was good composure by our part, and we just calmed down in the second and third there.”

It was noticeable on their next power play opportunity: the puck movement was much swifter, they were getting better looks and it reared its head for Florida.

Matthew Tkachuk sent a pass through the traffic for Carter Verhaeghe and he batted it in after a couple of funky bounces to give Florida the lead with 7:44 to go in the second period.

The Rangers tied the game up early with via a quick tip-in from Alexis Lafreniere via a stretch pass through traffic from Adam Fox, but from there it was all Panthers.

Florida led 13-5 in shots, 16-4 in scoring chances and 8-2 in high-danger chances in the third period — even holding the Rangers without a shot for long stretches of time — but could not get anything to go.

It was reminiscent of how Game 3 ended — a quick Rangers overtime winner after a dominant third — but they did not let that loom over their heads.

“We just had to believe it was going to come at some point and it did,” Barkov said. “We just have to keep working hard and not get frustrated. Enjoy what we do, enjoy the hard work we put in and it’s going to come eventually.”

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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