New York Rangers Magic Melts Against Florida Panthers

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Make it 31 years since the New York Rangers last took that parade up the Canyon of Heroes. This year, the Presidents Trophy winners had a solid run, setting a franchise record for wins (55) and points (114), and started the playoffs 7-0, making it through the first two playoff rounds. Still, they couldn’t keep up with the bigger, meaner Florida Panthers, who were like a brick wall in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Saturday night’s showdown at Amerant Bank Arena was a heartbreaking 2-1 season-ending defeat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals for the Blueshirts and their loyal fans.

The game was tense, with the Panthers receiving goals from Sam Bennett and Vladimir Tarasenko. Artemi Panarin gave a glimmer of hope with a goal with 1:40 left, but it was just that. Too late. The Rangers were good; the Panthers were better. It was evident throughout the series, and it’s why I chalked up the Rangers’ stolen Game 3 win to they’re a team of destiny. You felt it not only because of that win despite being destroyed but because of the franchise’s record-breaking season, the top seed, setting the NHL record for comebacks in a season, the undefeated start to the playoffs, which included a sweep for the first time in 17 years, the comeback in Game 6 against the Carolina Hurricanes, and even unlikely heroes stepping up in the form of Barclay Goodrow and Alex Wennberg who recorded overtime winners. But ultimately, it didn’t matter. It went for naught. They weren’t the special ones. 

Let’s face it: the Panthers were simply the better team in all areas, excluding goaltending, where even then, Sergei Bobrovsky was strong between the pipes.

Sure, Igor Shesterkin held his own in the net and was the reason this series was close, but the Rangers didn’t match up elsewhere. The Cats were faster, stronger, and had a stifling defense, pressured pucks in layers, executed their suffocating forecheck, automatic penalty kill, and a flawless 2-1-2 neutral zone attack they switched into mid-series that shut down the Blueshirts time and time again. New York tried to make the best of what they had, and there were chances, but they didn’t convert. 

Florida had 203 shots on goal compared to New York’s 150. And when it came to attempts, the Panthers had the upper hand again with a 469-370 advantage. According to Natural Stat Trick, Florida had a higher expected goals tally at five-on-five, racking up 15.26 compared to New York’s 9.27. According to Sport Logic, The Panthers had 41:30 of offensive zone time, New York 33:54. They had more slot shots to the tune of 95-59. They even dominated the rush game, outchancing the Blueshirts 59-39. They outscored the Rangers 16-12 in the series, 9-7 at 5 on 5, 4-0 at even strength in the last two games, and 5-3 on special teams. The better team won this series. 

The Rangers gave it their all in Game 6, making the Panthers work hard in their zone. But, sadly, they couldn’t find the back of the net. That was the story of the series. Three one-goal losses. You could argue whether they deserved to be in those games, but they were thanks to Shesterkin and still couldn’t pounce. They faced the Panthers nine times this year and won zero in regulation.

Facing elimination, New York generated chances but couldn’t crack Bobrovsky and trailed 1-0 after two periods. That was thanks to Sam Bennett’s goal on a mistake by captain Jacob Trouba, who didn’t take a man or the puck and let him walk right in to blast one past Shesterkin in the final minute of the opening frame. 

Coach Peter Laviolette, who did everything he could this season in his first year behind the bench for the Blueshirts, didn’t mess around with the lineup, mixing things up for the tenth game in a row. Alex Wennberg even switched positions, moving to right wing alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Filip Chytil, who hadn’t played center since his concussion scare, was back in the middle between Barclay Goodrow and Kaapo Kakko. And let’s not forget about Johnny Brodzinski, stepping up to center Will Cuylle and Jack Roslovic on the fourth line. 

The Rangers’ star players struggled to make an impact, with Panarin, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and a one-legged Adam Fox managing just two goals in the series. And when the 1 for 15 power play went cold, it exposed their weaknesses in five-on-five play. The dagger came when former Blueshirt Vladimir Tarasenko picked the perfect time in this series to pick up his first point, sliding it past Shestekrin on the doorstep off the rush to make it 2-0 with 8:52 left. It was already an issue getting one against these Panthers; two with little time left felt impossible. That’s writing it knowing how fragile a two-goal lead is, but it’s a testament to how good Florida was defensively. 

Yes, the Rangers got one, but it was similar to Alexis Lafreniere’s late goal in Game 5. It made things interesting, but it wouldn’t matter.

It’s time for the team to do some soul-searching. With three coaches in four years, it’s clear that at least one change must be made to the core. What will happen is unclear. There will be time to talk and speculate about that. For now, there’s pain. 

But there’s also respect. Tip your helmet to the rightful beasts of the East, the Florida Panthers. For a fifth straight year, a team from the Sunshine State will represent the conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Tampa Bay Lightning won back-to-back years, and last year, the Cats fell three wins shy of getting their hands on it for the first time. They’ll get another crack at it next week while the Rangers painstakingly join 30 other teams on the couch.

As Shesterkin said when asked about the New Devils beating them last year, “Did they win the Stanley Cup? Then it doesn’t matter.” Yep, all that success doesn’t matter now. What will be remembered from the 2023-24 Rangers is they were good, just not good enough to claim the ultimate prize. 

In this weeks episode Will Wright from Blueseatblogs comes on to discuss the Trouba situation, Prospects, Mika 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.
  1. Guest Will Wright
  2. There's more to come……….Right ?
  3. Guest Colin Stephenson
  4. Guest HockeyStatMiner
  5. Many Directions, One Goal

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