Why Rangers ‘need more of everything’ after Game 1 loss to Panthers

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

After being shut out 3-0 by the Florida Panthers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday, New York Rangers coach Peter Laviolette summed things up neatly near the end of his postgame media session.

“A little bit more of everything, right?” Laviolette said when discussing what the Rangers need to do better moving forward in this best-of-7 series.

“A little bit more execution on exits. A little bit more execution through the neutral zone. A little bit more press offensively. A little bit more physicality. A little more detail to defense. There’s a lot of little things you can do that add up to make a difference inside of a game.”

Sounds simple. But Laviolette was spot on with this analysis because, quite frankly, the Panthers seemed a step ahead of the Blueshirts all night in Game 1, just a bit better in every facet of the game — from goaltending, to execution in all three zones. The Panthers dictated — with a workmanlike 60-minute effort — how this game was played.

But at the end of the day, there’s no panic from Laviolette nor the Rangers. As the coach pointed out, despite how well the Panthers played, this was a 1-0 game with limited scoring chances both ways until an unfortunate own goal by the Rangers landed the home team in a 2-0 hole late in the third period.

“i thought we could’ve executed better,” Laviolette explained. “Some of that I have to give to them. Some we have to take responsibility with our execution in moving pucks and getting pucks to areas we need to get to.”

Related: Stubborn Rangers in unfamiliar waters for these playoffs

Rangers aim to find ‘best version of ourselves’ moving forward against Panthers

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

Giving credit where credit is due, the Panthers are an elite team defensively, and played to their strength in the series opener. They limited the Rangers to 23 shots on goal, none in a second-period span of 14:25, and just 19 at even strength. The Panthers also stifled the Rangers power play, allowing four shots on a pair of power-play opportunities, including one late in the game with the Rangers trailing by one.

A closer look at the scoring chances, per Natural Stattrick, shows the Panthers up 23-18 and 8-7 in high-danger chances. Those numbers are pretty even, though a third-period surge by the Rangers narrowed the gap some.

As Laviolette pointed out, each team had three scoring chances in the second period. Simply, there wasn’t a lot of open ice or prime opportunities for either side. And it can be argued that Matthew Tkachuk’s game-opening goal late in the first period is typically one Igor Shesterkin handles. But the left-wing wrist shot somehow eluded the glove hand of Shesterkin and, until late in the third period, that was the difference on the scoreboard.

The Rangers could use a better start in Game 2. Florida, which is 5-1 on the road in the postseason and has four straight road wins, dictated things right from the opening face off. The Madison Square Garden crowd, deafening when the Rangers hit the ice, was rendered a non-factor by the Rangers inability to sustain any pressure and the Panthers commitment to their game plan.

“I guess it was kind of your ideal road win for us on how we want to play,” Tkachuk said. “We’re very comfortable in the low-scoring games. We’ve got a lot of offensive guys on the team. But guys have bought into a certain style of play that has worked for us and has to keep working for us. That’s the best way to win in the playoffs. It’s a hard style to play, but it’s a hard style to play against.”

No arguments there. As expected, this is going to be a bear of a series for the Rangers. But they’ve responded all season to defeats and adversity, so Game 2 should be a doozy between two elite teams at MSG.

“I think we can play better. I don’t think that was the best version of ourselves,” Laviolette stated.

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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