Rangers season over, lose 2-1 in Game 6 to Panthers

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

For the 30th consecutive season, the New York Rangers will not win the Stanley Cup.

The Rangers lost Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final 2-1 on Saturday and were eliminated by the Florida Panthers, who will make their second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

It is the second time in three seasons the Rangers lost the conference final in six games, also doing so in 2022 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But the Rangers didn’t go out with a whimper. Artemi Panarin scored with 1:40 remaining in the third period to cut into a 2-0 Florida lead. But they couldn’t find a way to beat Sergei Bobrovsky again, especially against a stifling Panthers defense that blocked 11 shots in the third period alone.

The Rangers closed the playoffs out with three straight one-goal losses after taking a 2-1 series lead against the Panthers. After winning their first seven postseason games, the Rangers lost six of nine games.

“Nobody was expecting to be on this end of it,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said. “You’re expecting to come in here tonight, win a hockey game and bring it back to MSG for a Game 7. There’s a disappointment that goes with that.”

Bobrovksy allowed two goals or fewer in five of the six games in this series, and has done so in 10 of his past 11 games in these playoffs. He finished with 22 saves Saturday.

At the other end of the ice, Igor Shesterkin again was terrific, albeit in a losing effort. Shesterkin made 32 saves, including on 20 of 21 shots over the last two periods when New York was trailing 1-0.

“Igor was unbelievable. He made stop after stop … it’s tough because he played incredibly well,” Barclay Goodrow said.

Florida received a first-period goal from Sam Bennett and a third-period score from Vladimir Tarasenko.

Panarin’s goal was his first of the series. He, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox combined for two goals in the six games, outplayed throughout by the Panthers best players.

Related: Peter Laviolette chirps shirtless youngster during Game 6 interview on bench

Florida Panthers 2 – New York Rangers 1

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

Facing a must-win situation, Laviolette decided to shake things up a bit to start Game 6. Jonny Brodzinski was inserted into the lineup for the first time in the series and Matte Rempe was scratched.

But the bigger changes were seen with several new-look forward line combinations. Alex Wennberg moved up from third-line center to play right wing with Zibanejad and Kreider. Filip Chytil then moved into the middle on the third line, after playing exclusively on the wing since returning from a six-month absence because of an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion. Chytil was joined by Kaapo Kakko and Goodrow, who moved up from the fourth line.

Brodzinski centered the fourth line, flanked by Will Cuylle and Jack Roslovic. And the Panarin-Vincent Trocheck-Alexis Lafreniere trio remained intact.

Those moves, coupled with more desperation in their play, served the Rangers well. They got off to a fast start, outshooting the Panthers 4-1 in the early going, and, by and large, were able to avoid being pinned in their zone for extended stretches in the first two periods.

However, they still trailed 1-0 after 40 minutes because Bennett scored late in the first period and Bobrovsky was terrific between the pipes for the Panthers.

Bennett scored off a pretty give and go with Evan Rodrigues at 19:10 of the first period. His rocket from left wing flew over the glove of Shesterkin and into the top corner of the net. It was Bennett’s fourth goal of the series, sixth of the playoffs and extended his goal-scoring streak to three consecutive games.

Other than that, Shesterkin was fairly brilliant again, stopping 23 of 24 shots through two periods of play. His biggest moment came at 15:30 of the second, when he made a sharp left-pad save to deny Matthew Tkachuk on a breakaway. Tkachuk had four shots on goal through two periods, including a pair of neat deflections in front that the perfectly positioned Shesterkin turned aside.

Following the game, Shesterkin was praised by Panthers coach Paul Maurice.

“I haven’t seen a series by a goaltender like that since Jose Theodore in 2002. He won the Hart Trophy that year. … [Shesterkin] was brilliant in this series.”

Bobrovsky stopped all 18 Rangers shots over the first 40 minutes of play, including a sensational 1-2 punch when he made a pad save on Ryan Lindgren’s second-period blast, then got into position to kick out Fox’s soft rebound try.

The Panthers goalie caught a few breaks too. In the first period, he left a big rebound to his left after kicking away a Cuylle blast. But Roslovic chipped the rebound over the open right-side of the net. Then late in the second period, a Rangers shot hit the boards behind the Panthers net and caromed straight back into the crease, first just missing Bobrovsky’s skate and then hopping over Zibanejad’s stick, again with the net mostly open.

The third period began with a scary moment for the Rangers, but Shesterkin was able to deny Bennett’s wraparound and, after a scramble, the Rangers were able to clear the rebound. Moments later Shesterkin robbed Tarasenko, lunging with his left pad to deny a point-blank backhand attempt.

Tarasenko got his measure of revenge, though, giving the Panthers a 2-0 lead at 9:08 of the third period. Driving to the net, the former Rangers forward buried his first goal of the series off a gorgeous pass from Anton Lundell that zipped right through Chytil’s legs and to the stick of Tarasenko at the far post.

Florida did an incredible job defensively shutting down New York after taking the two-goal lead, but Panarin wired a shot over Bobrovsky’s glove with 1:40 remaining in regulation, with Shesterkin on the bench for an extra attacker, to make it 2-1.

However, the Rangers didn’t get close to the tying goal and their season ended with Trocheck wrapping Shesterkin in his arms on the bench, consoling the star goalie, who was the best player for either team in the series.

“It sucks,” Goodrow summed up. “It sucks.”

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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