Rangers better but not good enough; face elimination against Panthers

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

The New York Rangers fell 3-2 on Thursday night at home versus the Florida Panthers. With the loss, they are now facing elimination from the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.

Oh sure, they were much better in Game 5 compared to the two previous games in Florida. However, the best team during the regular season is learning just how different things can be in the postseason.

“It was a good effort, but you wanna win,” defenseman Adam Fox said. “Now we just gotta go there and get one, and give ourselves a chance to come back here and win a Game 7.”

Sounds simple enough, but unless this edition of the Blueshirts has another hidden battle level, it’s hard to see them winning two straight against the Panthers. Anyone watching this series has to be getting uncomfortable vibes as there’s eerie similarities to the 2022 Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

When the Rangers lost in six games to the Lightning, despite winning the first two games of the series, it was because they couldn’t penetrate Tampa’s defense to get into prime scoring areas. In their four losses to Tampa that season, the Rangers scored a grand total of five goals.

Fast forward to the 2024 Eastern Conference Final, and the Rangers have just four goals in their three losses to the similarly styled Panthers. It leads to questions if this team is really built to go all the way.

Related: Rangers need to make this defensive adjustment

New York Rangers not good enough

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

So here they are again facing elimination, even though Igor Shesterkin continuously gives them elite goaltending and a chance to win.

Time and again, the Rangers are kept to the outside unable to fight through the tough Florida defense which plays with a hive mind. Each Panther, whether they be a forward or defenseman, a first-liner or a fourth-liner, attack the Rangers’ puck carrier hard while supporting each other.

Artemi Panarin, who scored 120 points during the regular season has no room to breathe out on the ice. He’s hounded every time he’s in the offensive zone, often seeing double coverage as soon as gets the puck. Each time, the Panthers take it away from him because they know he likes to hold on to it and refuses to just dump it into a corner.

Of course, he’s not the only one. The same goes for Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, who are both guilty of trying to make plays as if it was still the regular season. But let’s not just pick on the stars either.

To a man, the Rangers are playing hope hockey. Stretch passes out of the defensive zone or lofting one up in the air, praying it lands just right so that they can get an odd-man rush out of it. As for the power play, it’s downright painful to watch. What makes matters worse is how stubborn they are to make changes. They continuously look for a cross-ice pass to catch the goalie moving, but the Panthers are creating a forcefield in the slot area giving up nothing. Sometimes, you just have to blast away from the point and look for rebounds or deflections.

All this being said, it’s hard to change a team’s DNA overnight. And speaking of DNA, hard-hitting, simple, and dirty playoff hockey is exactly Florida’s DNA.

So, can the Rangers find that willingness to fight for every inch of ice? Are they willing to go against their DNA to make fancy offensive plays and just dump pucks? Can they be more physical than the Panthers to beat them on loose puck battles, and then drive to the net for ugly goals?

Ultimately, that’s exactly what it’s going to take if they want to keep their dream alive on Saturday in Sunrise, Florida. Otherwise, the sun will set on another season without a Stanley Cup.

“Win a game,” Kreider stated, “Go down there and win one game. Play our best game, and give ourselves a chance.”

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

Mentioned in this article:

More About: