Rangers need to adjust in this area against Panthers

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

The New York Rangers are going to have to tighten things up in numerous areas if they plan on avoiding elimination and forcing a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final against the Florida Panthers. One of those areas is defending the rush, which proved to be the deciding factor in their critical 3-2 loss in Game 5 that put the Rangers in a 3-2 series hold.

It is a surprising area that seems to be hurting the Rangers against the Panthers, but one that they will need to fix quickly in order to avoid the end of their season. Two of Florida’s three goals came off the rush on Thursday night, the third was an empty net goal.

First, Gustav Forsling was able to get in behind Alexis Lafreniere on the rush, splitting both him and Adam Fox in the second period. After catching a gorgeous pass from Sam Bennett, he was in all alone on Igor Shesterkin, and capitalized on the opportunity for his second goal of the series. In this case, Forsling was a shared responsibility of Lafreniere and Fox, yet neither player picked him up. It was far too easy of a goal to surrender and iced New York’s momentum after taking a 1-0 lead just six minutes prior.

“It was a bit off the rush,” Fox explained. “They got that goal off the rush.”

Florida’s second goal came off the rush as well. The Rangers have had a problem handling this type of play, as one Panthers player without the puck will skate toward the Rangers net, dragging the defense down with them. This gives the player with the puck time and room to skate further into the zone and get a shot off.

In this case, it was Vladimir Tarasenko who was able to push the Rangers back and set a partial screen on Shesterkin. Anton Lundell then leaked into New York’s zone and had enough time to get a shot off, beating Shesterkin under the right arm to make it 2-1 midway through the third period.

“They got one off the rush there, and you’re just trying to play from behind,” Fox mentioned. “Not too much time left, it’s not that easy.”

Related: Peter Laviolette would’ve preferred better decision by Erik Gustafsson in key Game 5 moment

Rangers must find way to stop Panthers from scoring on rush chances

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

If the Rangers want to win Game 6 in South Florida on Saturday, this is an area that they have to be better at going forward. Allowing Florida to score goals without making them work for it is not sustainable if New York wants to keep their season alive. And it’s been a problem since Game 1, when Matthew Tkachuk scored off the rush after Gustav Forsling pushed the Rangers back into their own end.

“They score one off the rush in the third,” Peter Laviolette said. “I thought they pushed in the third period. They got some chances off the rush, they got a couple chances off of our turnovers, and they were able to capitalize on one of them.”

Similar to the 2022 playoff run when the Rangers were down 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round and 3-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round, they find themselves facing elimination once again. Perhaps their 34 comeback wins this season will translate into a comeback series.

“It was a good effort, but you want to win,” Fox said. “Especially a critical game here at home. Now we just have to go there, get one, and give ourselves a chance to come back here and win a Game 7.”

For those keeping track of the 1994 similarities, New York was in this very same scenario 30 years ago, down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Final after losing Game 5 at home. Of course, the Blueshirts won Game 6 against the New Jersey Devils on the road and closed it out in Game 7 on Stephane Matteau’s double overtime goal.

So, it can be done.

Defend the rush, generate some more offense, and they’ll have a chance of forcing Game 7, when anything can happen.

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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