Rangers had ‘too many passengers’ in playoff loss to Panthers, says ESPN hockey reporter

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
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Emily Kaplan had an up close look at every second played during the Eastern Conference Final between the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers. So, the ESPN hockey reporter has a pretty good idea why the Rangers lost the final three games and were eliminated in six by the Panthers.

“The term I always hear from coaches, and former players use, is ‘passengers.’ And there were just too many passengers and not enough guys leading the way, especially from their highest-paid stars that you want to rely on most,” Kaplan said on the Rink Rap podcast presented by Forever Blueshirts.

Not surprisingly, Kaplan focused on Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, who were outplayed throughout the conference final by their Panthers counterparts. Kreider scored one goal, shorthanded in Game 5. Panarin scored his only goal 6v5 in the final minutes of Game 6. And Zibanejad was held to two assists, each in Game 5.

The Rangers scored 12 goals in the six-game series, two 6v5 with the goalie pulled, two shorthanded, one on the power play and only seven at even strength.

“I do know that this team is extremely well coached. I think the players all bought into the system.,” Kaplan explained. “I think so much worked for them all year but when it comes to the playoffs, it is a different style and I saw Artemi Panarin playing a lot of perimeter hockey and that was the same issue he played last year [in the first-round loss to the New Jersey Devils]. It was never more direct and it was never quite at the net.”

Kaplan also noted Zibanejad’s shortcomings, which included going the final 11 games of the playoffs without scoring a goal.

“Zibanejad’s your No. 1 center and, yes, he got really hard matchups against Sasha Barkov, but it can’t be in every series that the other team’s No. 1 center is better than yours,” she said.

WATCH: Emily Kaplan talks all things Rangers after conference final loss with Forever Blueshirts

Emily Kaplan does see ‘sliver of optimism’ for Rangers

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

Of course, these playoffs were not all bad for the Rangers. Kaplan pointed to the star turn taken by goalie Igor Shesterkin, the outstanding play of Vincent Trocheck and the emergence of Alexis Lafreniere as huge positives for New York.

Even the healthy return of Filip Chytil, no matter how rusty he looked after a six-month injury absence, was a positive.

And in the bigger picture, Kaplan believes that the Rangers will be able to bolster their core with incoming young talent.

“They’ve done a really good job under Chris Drury of drafting and developing,” Kaplan explained. “I think if you’re looking for a sliver of optimism, knowing how many top-rated prospects they do have — of course every organization loves their own prospects … because those are their babies — but I hear externally from other organizations that the Rangers do have a lot of studs.”

Fortifying their core with the likes of Brennan Othmann and Gabe Perreault in the coming years, and the maturation of Lafreniere, Will Cuylle, Braden Schneider and K’Andre Miller, is key moving forward.

For now, though, there’s the massive disappointment of an historic season that ended up going sideways. It’s a disappointment Kaplan understands.

“It is tough, as fans, to see these guys … star through the regular season and it all dissipated when it matters most.”

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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