Rangers power play drying up when needed most in playoffs

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

The Florida Panthers have proven themselves a formidable foe, pushing the New York Rangers to the brink of elimination for the first time this postseason after a 3-2 win in a pivotal Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday. One of the keys to their success has been the neutralization of New York’s elite power play, which has failed to make its mark on this series up to this point.

Special teams have played a major role in the Rangers’ success, both in the regular season and throughout the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That success has somewhat continued in the conference final since their penalty kill has been a threat scoring twice shorthanded despite allowing the Panthers to score five power-play goals. In Game 5, New York’s PK was 3-for-3 and Chris Kreider opened the scoring in the second period with a shorthanded goal.

The power play, however, came up empty on three opportunities, despite some decent chances.

“I thought we had some pretty good movement, I thought we had some good chances. I thought today it was kinda there, but it’s missing that last pass or the last execution,” Mika Zibanejad said following the loss. “We know what we’re capable of doing, we just gotta make sure that we take advantage of the chances when they come.”

The Rangers are now 1-for-14 on the man advantage in this series against the Panthers. That included a power play with 13 minutes left in the third period of Game 5 with the score still tied 1-1.

“Close isn’t cutting it,” defenseman Adam Fox said. “We gotta capitalize on those chances. It’s big spots. We have some looks, but you don’t win games based on getting looks. You’ve gotta capitalize, and that’s definitely on us”

The Rangers’ lone power play in the third interrupted what had been six minutes and 58 seconds of largely dominant Panthers hockey. Igor Shesterkin kept the game tied with massive saves on Anton Lundell and Eutu Luostarinen, but Florida was tilting the ice.

However, Niko Mikkola tripped Kaapo Kakko behind the Panthers net, giving the Rangers a respite from the dominant Florida attack and a chance to swing momentum in their favor.

But the Blueshirts came up empty on their third power play of the day, managing two shots on goal and three attempts.

Eighty-two seconds after the Rangers power play concluded, Lundell scored on a 3-on-2 rush and gave the Panthers a one-goal lead that they would not relinquish.

“You’re not gonna score every time you go out there on the power play, but I think you wanna at least create some momentum,” Zibanejad noted postgame. “I thought we’ve done that with some of the looks, but I know we can be better.”

You can also look back to an Erik Gustafsson penalty in the second period that negated a potential 5-on-3 power play.

Just 39 seconds into Kyle Okposo’s tripping penalty, Mikkola drove to the net shorthanded and barreled into Shesterkin. He was quickly swarmed by several Rangers players, with Gustafsson getting sent to the box for roughing. The Rangers remained 5-on-4 and managed just one shot on goal the rest of that power play.

Related: Rangers better, not good enough in Game 5 loss

Reviving power play could be key to keeping Rangers’ season alive

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

The lack of production is a big blow, considering how crucial the power play has been to their postseason success.

The Rangers came out the gates hot, 6-for-16 (37.5 percent) in the first round against the Washington Capitals.

It cooled down a bit against the Carolina Hurricanes, converting at a 5-for-20 clip (20 percent). However, the power-play goals came in big spots, like Vincent Trocheck’s double-overtime winner in Game 2 and Kreider’s game-tying tally in Game 6.

There were inklings of struggle towards the tail-end of the Carolina series, with the Blueshirts scoring just once on 10 opportunities in the final four games.

Now, it’s a full-on issue. Since Game 3 of the second round, the Rangers’ power play is 2-for-24 (8.3 percent).

Mind you, their 26.4 percent success rate in the regular season made them the third-best power play in the NHL. Media pundits wondered if the Rangers were too power-play reliant to succeed in the playoffs, when referees tend to make fewer calls. The Rangers have gotten their opportunities on the power play throughout the postseason, but it’s completely dried up of late.

It’s almost more frustrating when you look at how dangerous they’ve been shorthanded.

The Rangers have held the Panthers to five power play goals on 18 opportunities. You wouldn’t necessarily categorize that as dominant, but given Florida’s potent unit, that’s far from an issue. They still rank fifth among all postseason teams with an 83.9 percent kill rate.

On top of that, they’ve developed a knack for scoring despite being a man down.

With the Panthers on the power play in the second period, Kreider intercepted a pass from Matthew Tkachuk. Zibanejad skated it across the neutral zone and sent it ahead to a speeding Kreider who finished the breakaway to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

That marked the Rangers’ sixth shorthanded goal this postseason. It’s the most in the NHL by a wide margin in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. All the other postseason teams have eight combined. No NHL team has had as many shorthanded goals in a postseason since the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.

After the Rangers’ 4-3 double-overtime win over the Hurricanes in Game 2 of the second round, Fox discussed the importance of special teams in the postseason.

“This time of year, special teams could win a series, win games.”

The Rangers now have their backs against the wall, one loss away from their season coming to a close in the Eastern Conference Final. Defeating Florida once, let alone twice in a row, is no easy feat, but a more efficient power play would certainly help the cause.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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