This time Rangers lose in overtime, drop Game 4 to Panthers 3-2

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Reinhart’s power-play goal 1:12 into overtime pushed the Florida Panthers past the New York Rangers 3-2 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final on Tuesday at Amerant Bank Arena. It was the third straight overtime game in this best-of-7 series, which is tied 2-2 heading back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5 on Thursday.

Reinhart snapped a one-timer from between the circles over the glove of Igor Shesterkin after a pretty one-touch pass out of the corner from Aleksander Barkov to win it for the Panthers, who were desperate not to fall behind 3-1 in the series.

Blake Wheeler, playing his first game in more than three months following a lower-body injury, hooked Barkov on a break after an errant pas in the neutral zone by Mika Zibanejad. For a split second, it appeared a penalty shot might be called, but instead Wheeler was sent to the penalty box.

“Obviously I should have probably made a different play, decision,” Zibanejad explained postgame. “Just come back and try to make other decisions next time and hope that it goes my way.”

Shesterkin was brilliant in defeat, making 37 saves. He stopped all 13 shots he faced in the third period, when New York erased a 2-1 deficit to force another overtime in this series. The Rangers won Game 2 on Barclay Goodrow’s overtime goal and followed with a 5-4 overtime victory in Game 3, when Alex Wennberg scored the winner.

New York had been a perfect 4-0 in overtime games in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Panthers are now 2-2 in OT.

Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere scored for the Rangers, and both Adam Fox and Artemi Panarin had two assists.

Sam Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe also scored for the Panthers, who were 2-for-4 on the power play. Barkov was a bull again for Florida and finished with a pair of assists.

Sergei Bobrovsky made 21 saves in the win for Florida, including 12 on 13 shots in the first period when the Rangers played their best period of the night.

Related: Blake Wheeler returns, Filip Chytil scratched for Rangers in Game 4

Florida Panthers 3 – New York Rangers 2 (OT)

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

The Rangers put together, perhaps, their best period of this series when they outplayed the Panthers and took a 1-0 lead through 20 minutes of play Tuesday.

Trocheck ripped a one-timer from between the circles bar down for New York’s first power-play goal of the series at 8:51 of the first period. Panarin made a pretty feed right into Trocheck’s wheelhouse, and the Blueshirts center hammered home his team-leading eighth goal.

It was the first power-play goal for the Rangers in this series after starting 0-for-8. They had been 1-for-18 since Game 3 of their second-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Their re-energized power play nearly made it 2-0 late in the period. After zipping the puck around, Zibanejad ripped a shot from left wing that caught Bobrovsky’s shoulder and bounced straight up off the crossbar at 16:42.

Thirty seconds later Bobrovsky made a clutch pad save against Fox, who was alone on right wing.

New York outshot Florida 12-11 in the opening period and Shesterkin looked poised and confident, easily swallowing up the shots that did come his way. After being badly out-attempted in Game 3 (108-44), the Rangers had 28 shot attempts in the first period and the Panthers had only 19. New York also had the edge with high-danger chances (4-1), as the opening 20 minutes could not have gone much better for the visitors.

However, the Panthers flipped the script in the second period. They out-attempted the Rangers 33-10, outshout them 15-5 and most importantly scored the only two goals in the second period to take a 2-1 lead.

“We can’t afford lapses like that. I don’t have an explanation,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said. “I definitely think that we need to be better.”

If not for Shesterkin, the Rangers could have been much further behind on the scoreboard. He made numerous Grade-A saves in the second, many following defensive breakdowns by the Rangers.

His two best stops may have come against the same player, Barkov. Twice Shesterkin stoned Barkov on 2-on-1 breaks — first with a huge left-pad save on Barkov’s shorthanded drive at 15:04 and the second when the Panthers captain steamed down the middle untouched but couldn’t lift the puck over the goalie’s pads at 18:12.

Shesterkin also denied both Evan Rodrigues and Verhaeghe in close after each snuck in behind the Rangers defense early in the period.

But the Panthers did find a way to beat Shesterkin twice in the second, a pair of greasy goals that put the Rangers in a 2-1 hole. Bennett tied the game with his second of the series and fourth of the playoffs at 8:45, jamming his own rebound on the rush off Shesterkin’s skate and just over the goal line.

Verhaeghe then went to the net to score a power-play goal at 12:16, his ninth of the postseason. Matthew Tkachuk zipped a pass toward the blue paint and Verhaeghe’s first shot hit Shesterkin, then the top of Ryan Lindgren’s helmet before the Panthers forward batted it out of midair and into the cage.

The Rangers nearly tied it at 15:59, but Lafreniere’s nasty wrist shot on the rush caught the far post. That offset Sam Reinhart hitting the post earlier in the period for Florida.

Shesterkin did it again to start the third period, robbing a wide-open Vladimir Tarasenko shot from five-feet out at 1:28. And that set the stage for Lafreniere to tie the game two minutes later.

Fox made a brilliant spinning pass from between the circles that Lafreniere batted out of the air to the side of the cage and into the net at 3:28. His third goal in two games, and seventh of the playoffs, made it 2-2.

With 6:30 remaining in regulation, Shesterkin did it again, making an incredible pair of sprawling saves against Kyle Okposo.

The Rangers came alive in the closing minutes. Matt Rempe chipped one toward the net on the rush that just missed Trocheck’s stick, forcing Bobrovsky into an awkward kick save. Then moments later, Chris Kreider fed Zibanejad on a 2-on-2 but his shot flew over the net.

When the horn sounded to end the third period, there was a familiar feel. The Panthers were up 38-23 in shots, pounding the Rangers physically and controlling most of the game, yet here were the teams heading to overtime yet again.

However, this time the ending of the script changed. And now the Rangers will host an absolutely crucial Game 5 back home on Thursday.

Best of seven is now best of three.

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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