Ryan Lomberg, Panthers 4th line a problem for Rangers in Game 1

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

There was no shortage of standouts for the Florida Panthers in their 3-0 victory over the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. But one unit in particular that got some love from coach Paul Maurice was the Cats’ often-unheralded fourth line.

“They were just on the puck and fast and detailed,” said Maurice. “What I said when I came into the room at the end of the game was just to point out how good that line was for us.”

Right at the heart of it all was Florida’s undrafted left winger Ryan Lomberg.

“It might be the best game I’ve seen Ryan Lomberg play,” Maurice praised in his postgame press conference. “They didn’t score so it’s not that. But the technical parts of his game. The energy’s always there, the physicality’s always there.”

Related: Mark Messier wants to see Matt Rempe in the lineup

Panthers Ryan Lomberg a problem for Rangers

NHL: Florida Panthers at Montreal Canadiens
Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

It should be noted that the unit was on the ice for a goal — it was just quickly overturned. Fourth-line center Kevin Stenlund set up defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson for a left circle shot that beat Igor Shesterkin glove side. However, after a Rangers challenge, it was ruled that Lomberg entered the crease and initiated contact with Shesterkin, nullifying the score.

Asked about the decision, Maurice said, “I thought it was right — because it’s the call I would want on Sergei [Bobrovsky].”

The lack of scoring shouldn’t take away from what was an excellent, sometimes dominant game for the Panthers’ bottom line.

The combination of Lomberg, Stenlund, and Nick Cousins generated an expected Goals percentage (xGF%) of 86.82%, per Natural Stat Trick. That was the highest of any line that logged at least 2:00 of ice time in Game 1 on either side. That’s both a testament to their offensive pressure as well as their defensive resilience. According to Natural Stat Trick, Florida’s fourth line did not allow a scoring chance while they were on the ice.

You might expect a team the caliber of the Panthers to boast a strong checking line that can lock it down defensively and pressure opponents on the forecheck. Florida’s fourth line did plenty of that in Game 1. However, the offensive potency of the Lomberg-Stenlund-Cousins line is a bit eye-opening.

The Rangers already have their hands full with Florida’s dangerous top six. Matthew Tkachuk opened the scoring in the 1st period with a beautiful left circle shot. Aleksander Barkov’s line looked dangerous all night long. Adding elite play from the fourth line into the mix could be enough to put the Blueshirts firmly on their heels.

“That’s kind of how we roll,” Lomberg told Jameson Olive of NHL.com. “We play as hard as we can until there’s no more time on the clock. Then we take our recovery, go out, and do it again. It was great to see all the boys sell out toward the end of the game. We want it so bad.”

Consistent play up and down the lineup was key for the Panthers in their 3-0 victory to open the series. The Rangers struggled all night long with Florida’s relentless forecheck and looked particularly sloppy in their own end.

Look no further than the puck control battle, where New York’s 12 giveaways compared to Florida’s two paints an ugly picture.

“Since the end of the season, through the playoffs, [Florida’s] played extremely tight,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said postgame. “I think our executions gotta be better, from getting out of the defensive zone, through the neutral zone, and then into the offensive zone.”

It remains to be seen if the Rangers can make adjustments ahead of Game 2, right back at MSG on Friday night. It’s the first time all postseason that the Rangers have trailed in a series, and they’d certainly like to avoid taking a 2-0 deficit into Florida.

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

Mentioned in this article:

More About: