How Panthers plan to attack Rangers ‘biggest strength’ in playoffs

Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As the New York Rangers get set to take on the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final, they will once again lean on goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who has been outstanding in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Florida, however, has a plan for getting the best of the red-hot Shesterkin.

“I think the main thing right now is what we’ve been dealing with all playoffs, and that’s one of their big strengths which is in goal,” Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk said prior to Game 1 Wednesday. “We have to get in front of him like we’ve been able to do with (Andrei) Vasilevsky and (Jeremy) Swayman the last few series. Shesterkin is playing unbelievable right now. I’d say that’s one of, if not, their biggest strength.”

The Panthers advanced to the conference final, in part because they got the best of Vasilevskiiy in a five-game opening-round series win against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Swayman in a six-game second-round series against the Boston Bruins.

The Panthers are third in the playoffs, averaging 3.55 goals per game. Sixteen Panthers skaters have scored at least one goal.

Shesterkin has had quite the playoff run thus far, guiding New York to an 8-2 record with a .923 save percentage and a 2.40 goals against average. He played a key role in the second-round victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, making 54 and 45 saves in the Game 2 and 3 wins, respectively.

In the first round, Florida was able to score five goals against Vasilevsky and the Lightning twice. In the second round, they potted six against Swayman and the Bruins twice. Keep in mind that Shesterkin has only given up more than three goals in a playoff game one time since the 2022 first round. However, it was Game 4 against the Hurricanes, when the Rangers played their worst game of the playoffs.

Related: ‘Never a doubt’ Ryan Lindgren would Play Game 1 against Panthers

Panthers will have ‘hands full’ against talented Rangers

NHL: Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Tkachuk and the Panthers know they will have a tough time in this upcoming series. Not only with Shesterkin, but with the rest of the Rangers as well.

“They are very very talented up front, and their defense can kind of do-it-all type of defense,” Tkachuk stated. “We’ve got our hands full with some of their forwards up front, their speed and their skill. We’ve got to stay out of the box against them.”

That could prove to be the difference in this best-of-7 series. The Rangers have the edge in special teams. Their 31.4 percent power play tops the 22.0 percent of the Panthers in the postseason. This means that the Panthers, who are the second most penalized team in the playoffs, need to be more disciplined.

“We’re expecting the Rangers to give us a very good challenge,” Tkachuk said. “They’ve been the best team all regular season and, so far, they’re the best team in the playoffs. It’s a great opportunity for us to show what we’re capable of, but it’s going to be a great series.”

That much is for certain. The Eastern Conference Final between New York and Florida pits the top two teams from the conference. The Rangers finished first in the Metropolitan Division and won the Presidents’ Trophy. The Panthers were first in the Atlantic Division, just four points overall behind the Blueshirts.

Any way you draw it up, this is going to be a handful for both teams, likely a long series, that could be determined if Florida has its way with Shesterkin.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh

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