Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 Recap: New York Rangers vs. Florida Panthers

May 22, 2024; New York, New York, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) hits New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) during the first period of game one of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. BRAD PENNER USA TODAY Sports Eastern Conference final Game 1: Florida Panthers 3, New York Rangers 0

It’s only one game, but the New York Rangers will need to be better if they want to keep their Stanley Cup hopes alive. The President-trophy winners 3-0 loss to the reigning league runner-ups, Florida Panthers, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final at Madison Square Garden wasn’t as bad as the score indicated, but it certainly wasn’t up to par for a team in the final four. The Panthers came out swinging, dominating with their aggressive forecheck, leaving the Blueshirts scrambling for answers.

“We know we can play better,” remarked Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette. “That wasn’t our best effort, and we need to improve in all aspects of the game. There’s definitely more we can bring to the table.”

Improving zone entries, managing the puck, being tighter defensively as a unit, and gaining more possession in the offensive zone will be key, but the Panthers aren’t going to make it easy. Game 1 showcased their defensive prowess, reminding everyone why they allowed the fewest goals in the NHL this season. Beating them four times in the next six games won’t be a walk in the park.

Related Post: Three Takeaways From Florida Panthers Shutout Victory

However, despite the shutout win, it didn’t feel like the Panthers were firing on all cylinders either. They had their share of defensive breakdowns, but Sergei Bobrovsky’s stellar 23 save shutout with a 2.69 goals saved above expected, kept them afloat. While it’s only Game 1, and there’s no reason to panic yet, the Rangers can’t afford a repeat performance in Game 2. Falling behind 2-0 heading to Florida would be a tough hill to climb.

Panthers Pounce Early as Rangers Falter:

In the game’s opening minutes, the Panthers came out strong, putting pressure on the Rangers right from the start. However, the Rangers managed to gain possession and launched a counterattack. Artemi Panarin had a prime opportunity from the slot, but his shot narrowly missed the net, much to Bobrovsky’s relief. The Panthers’ heavy forecheck paid off early, with Bobrovsky making a crucial save on Trocheck’s breakaway, albeit with a bit of help from his mask. As the period progressed, the Panthers dominated, pinching their defensemen into the offensive zone and keeping the Rangers hemmed in their end. Unfortunately for the hosts, Jacob Trouba and Erik Gustafsson struggled with turnovers, even with no Florida pressure. Trouba’s hooking penalty on Selke Winner Aleksander Barkov further compounded their troubles, handing the Panthers a power play opportunity.

Despite the Rangers’ penalty kill stepping up admirably, holding Florida to a single shot. The Panthers capitalized on a Breadman turnover, and the Rangers were not pressuring up at the blue line as Carter Verhaeghe fed Gustav Forsling, who hit Matthew Tkachuk for a quick wrister that beat Shesterkin’s glove side, giving the Panthers a 1-0 lead late in the first period. “It was smart because it was shot off the rush, instead of trying to wait for more or find more,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “Sometimes it’s just the simplicity that we need in our game to set a bit of a tone.”

Despite a late push from the Blueshirts, including a breakaway chance for Braden Schneider that hit the post, Florida led after the opening frame—the period belonged to the Cats, with the Rangers committing six giveaways compared to the Panthers’ two and Florida leading in scoring chances, 10-7. It was not the tone-setting 20 minutes anyone in Manhattan wearing red and blue expected. “Our whole entire game has to be a lot better.”, Rangers forward Chris Kreider, coming off a natural hat trick in the series-clinching Game 6, against the Carolina Hurricanes said. “It wasn’t there nearly enough tonight.” “It boils down to playing north-south hockey, getting pucks out, getting pucks in. That’s the kind of hockey they played.” The Blueshirts had been great all year, mostly staying north, but Wednesday wasn’t the best example of it. “We have a tendency to sometimes try to do a little too much when it’s not there instead of just playing even, increasingly more and more simple, understanding that we’re not doing a good job of getting through the neutral zone. … You have to work smart, not just hard.”

Feline the Pressure:

The middle frame was more similar to the first, as the Blueshirts continued to be overpowered by Florida’s forecheck. Yet New York kicked things off with a golden opportunity as Will Cuylle broke away, but Niko Mikkola hustled back to disrupt his shot, denying the Rangers a goal. Alexis Lafreniere feathered a pass through to Vincent Trocheck, but his redirection attempt was stopped. It was part of what allowed the Cats to shut the Blueshirts down. They gave up rush chances but backchecked hard-to-contest opportunities.

Despite generating chances at 5v5, the Rangers couldn’t find the back of the net nor even hit the target. But, as Maurice said, it was valid for both sides. “The best offense by both teams tonight missed the net.”

The Panarin-Trocheck-Lafreniere line kept the pressure on, cycling the puck effectively, and outshot Florida 8-4 when on the ice, but Bobrovsky stoned them. 

The positive was the Panthers’ defense showed signs of cracking with some breakdowns. Unfortunately, the Blueshirts couldn’t hit the finishing target on their cycle plays, allowing the Panthers to get away unscathed. However, those yielded chances didn’t fly over the head of Maurice. “We gave up two breakaways, that’s a neutral-zone problem, cause there’s a guy alone skating with the puck straight through it. So we gotta fix that. I will tell you this: all of these games are so close. The score almost doesn’t tell you anything cause it’s a turn of a puck. It’s a puck that they blocked, and we didn’t, or a pass that we made, and it’s two or three, and that’s the difference. So in this building, they get one, they catch fire.”

But just when it seemed like the Rangers were gaining momentum, Jack Roslovic was called for high-sticking, putting New York on the penalty kill for the second time. The Rangers’ penalty kill remained solid, shutting down the Panthers’ power play again as part of a 3/3 night. Laviolette shuffled the lines, giving Filip Chytil a shift with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, while Cuylle, Wennberg, and Roslovic formed the third line. We even saw Kreider and Zibanejad paired with Panarin as the breadman started to double-shift with his team down a goal. 

Despite Barkov getting a great chance in front when Barclay Goodrow got caught puck-watching and went too hard low into the defensive zone, Shesterkin made a clutch save to keep the Rangers in it. Unfortunately, the Rangers’ offense went quiet after an initial flurry of shots in the period. Even their power play struggled as the frame ended, but they had a promising chance with Zibanejad’s one-timer hitting the side of the net. “That power-play chance for Zibanejad was an incredible save,’’ Maurice said of Bobrovsky, who slid over and made the stop before the puck hit Trocheck and fluttered away.

From Hope to Heartbreak:

We saw the Kid Line in action! Lafrenière-Chytil-Kakko hit the ice to start the third period, with Panarin later joining the mix with a double shift.

At the 11:15 mark, Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s wrister seemed to put Florida up 2-0, but there was some crease commotion with Ryan Lomberg and Igor Shesterkin. Lindgren gave Lomberg a nudge, but the goalie’s position was compromised, leading to a successful Rangers challenge. Goal disallowed, keeping it 1-0. Maurice agreed with the call. “I thought it was right because it’s the call I would want on Sergei.”

The Blueshirts responded with relentless pressure off the rush, creating a whirlwind sequence. Rangers inevitable push included quality shots galore. Alex Wennberg, Roslevic, Trouba – everyone had a go, even Lafreniere rang the pipe. That offensive burst earned them a power play after the Panthers got nabbed for too many men on the ice. Yet despite some solid attempts, including a blast by Adam Fox, kicked out by the left pad of Bobrovsky, they couldn’t convert.

Then came a heartbreaker. An own goal by Lafrenière handed the Panthers a 2-0 lead. Shesterkin’s aggressive board play backfired, sending the puck straight to Verhaeghe, who found Tkachuk via a deflection off Lafrenière’s stick. Sam Bennett’s empty-netter sealed Florida’s victory in the series opener.

MSG: Library or Lively?:

The loss wasn’t just on the players; the Rangers crowd shares some of the blame too. It was crickets for most of the evening, which was pretty embarrassing. Sure, they started off loud, and there was some noise in the final eight minutes, but for the most part, MSG felt like a library during the second period. You’d expect more from such a legendary venue.

A good crowd needs to be proactive, not just reactive. Yeah, tickets might be pricier here, but if you’re shelling out the big bucks to be there, bring the energy. Fans need to stay hyped even during the slow parts of the game and lift the players’ spirits. They should feel the weight of that loss as much as the players do.

I’m hoping to see a much rowdier crowd for game 2 on Friday. With the boys down 1-0 in the series, they need all the support they can get.

So, What Now?

Laviolette had his pick of players for the first time since Filip Chytil’s unfortunate injury back in November. Chytil, who returned during the Carolina series after a long recovery from a concussion, was finally available for Game 1. Joining him in the mix were Blake Wheeler, Matt Rempe, and Jonny Brodzinski, all healthy and ready to roll.

No surprises here, Chytil made the cut. The Rangers’ optimal lineup just wouldn’t be complete without him. So, there he was, back in his familiar left-wing spot alongside Alex Wennberg and Kaapo Kakko, forming that dynamic trio once again.

Chytil’s ice time, however, was a bit puzzling. He saw limited action in the third period, with only three shifts totaling 2:38.

Given the tight contest, Chytil’s prolonged absence despite being healthy might question his effectiveness in a 1-0 game against the Panthers. Perhaps injecting some energy into the lineup, like enforcer Matt Rempe’s, could be the boost the Rangers need for Game 2. Then again, if that’s what you need to get going, there are bigger problems. But until then, the Blueshirts are staying the course and each player to its own will attack the next 48 hours with hopes of evening this series on Friday. “It’s a seven-game series,” forward Jimmy Vesey said. “We’ve been on the other side of it. Look at last round, teams respond and push and we’ve been a team that’s responded all year and met every challenge. So our mindset is no different.”

In this week's episode, we have on guest HockeyStatMiner to discuss NYR's Salary cap situation, potential moves and more.How to support us and our sponsors:Columbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITRThanks for listening! Please rate and review our show on your favorite listening platform. Check out our partner's website at www.insidetherink.com for all your latest hockey news.
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  3. A Heartbreaking End, Offseason Begins
  4. Game 5 Recap : Guest Joe Fortunato
  5. Game 4 Recap : Breakout Breakdown

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