No changes for Panthers, who ‘expect their best’ from Rangers in Game 6

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers have had a winning lineup the past two games, so they’re not going to make any changes when the puck drops for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at home against the New York Rangers on Saturday.

The Panthers lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 and can finish off the Rangers with a victory Saturday. They’ve won two straight games since forwards Kyle Okposo and Steven Lorentz came into the lineup.

So, for the third straight game, those fourth-line wingers will suit up instead of Nick Cousins and Ryan Lomberg, who each played in the first three games of the series.

Panthers coach Paul Maurice is keen on sticking to the formula which produced three intense one-goal games, two of which ended in overtime.

Okposo, the 36-year-old long-time New York Islander and former Buffalo Sabres captain, was traded from Buffalo to Florida ahead of the NHL trade deadline for defenseman Calle Sjalin and a conditional seventh-round pick (which could become a fifth-rounder should the Panthers win the Stanley Cup). 

After participating in only six regular-season games after the trade, Okposo will play his 11th game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He found favor with Maurice during the second round against the Boston Bruins, and had several good scoring chances in two games against the Rangers. He has two assists in the playoffs, so far.

Lorentz is also in his first season with the Panthers, after being traded to Florida by the San Jose Sharks last July for former Rangers forward Anthony Duclair and a fifth-round pick.  

He had only 4:18 in ice time in Florida’s 3-2 Game 5 win at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. But he’s scored two goals and has three points in 11 postseason games.

Related: Jonny Brodzinski likely to play Game 6 for Rangers

Panthers expect do-or-die Rangers to ‘bring their best’ in Game 6

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning
Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not just their lineup the Panthers won’t change for Game 6. Don’t expect any changes to how they play. It’s been a winning formula, one that has worn the Rangers down, both during games and the overall series.

The Rangers are struggling to find dependable production from their star players, and the Panthers have thrived on making them work hard to create scoring opportunities. 

Florida has been remarkably effective in all five games at limiting dangerous chances on zone entries and ensuring that New York’s formidable power play is kept at bay.

New York’s dangerous 26.4 percent power play during the regular season (which beat out Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s Oilers) has been silent this series, operating at a hushed 1-for-14.

The Rangers’ calling card this season was their dominance on special teams, so there’s something to be said for the shutdown defense from Florida’s two-way star Aleksander Barkov and an elite defense corps consisting of Aaron Ekblad, Gustav Forsling, and Brandon Montour.

And Florida has been a pain, literally and figuratively, 5v5 too.

To that end, the Panthers tied the Winnipeg Jets for the fewest goals allowed in the NHL during the regular season. They lead that category with the remaining teams this postseason as well.

That’s not to say that the Rangers will go down easy. Florida’s not expecting them to.

New York has won five of seven road games this postseason. With the threat of elimination looming over their heads, you can expect they will come out swinging.

“You’ve got to treat it like a regular game, especially with how tight this series is. Each shift is so crucial. Again, this is a team that’s on the brink of their season being finished. We expect their best,” Montour said.

Not only are the Panthers expecting the Blueshirts to enter Amerant Bank Arena with urgency, but they’re also expecting the Rangers faithful to be out in droves as well.

“These guys [Rangers] bring a boatload of fans too. That makes it interesting. When they score goals you can definitely hear them cheering and screaming as well. The energy in the building overall whether it’s for us or against us, we thrive off that,” Lorentz noted when asked about the crowd’s liveliness.

He also had some high praise for the Rangers home crowd, though he’d prefer not to return there for a possible Game 7 on Monday.

“Playing at MSG when the whole crowd lights up … it’s special. It gives you chills.” Lorentz explained. “You can either be intimidated by that or you can feed off that as well. Energy is energy. It’s a great rink to play in.”

The Rangers will be desperately playing to keep their season alive at least one more game. The Panthers, they’re looking to keep the wheels turning with strong defensive play, timely offensive moments and the same winning lineup.

Nick Palmer is a beat reporter and journalist specializing in NHL and MLB. Throughout his time at Fordham University's... More about Nick Palmer

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