Special teams could decide Rangers playoff series vs. Panthers

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

With the Eastern Conference Final coming down to the wire, a best-of-7 series that is now a best-of-3, special teams loom large for both the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers. Scoring 5v5 is expected to be tough sledding the rest of the way, so a timely power-play goal or key penalty kill could swing a game, and, ultimately, the series in someone’s favor.

“There’s four very strong units,” Florida coach Paul Maurice explained. “Our kill, our power play, their kill, their power play. That’s one of the many things that could be the difference. The further you go in, the margin for error is slighter and the skill usually wins out.”

In the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and for much of the second, the Rangers lived large with their special teams. Their power play was rolling at over 30 percent, and the penalty kill hovered around 85 percent, so it’s no surprise the Rangers won their first seven postseason games in a row.

But their special teams have crashed back down to earth. The Rangers are 2-for-21 on the power play since Game 3 of the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes. They were 0-for-8 against the Panthers in this series before Vincent Trocheck’s power-play goal in Game 4 on Tuesday.

In addition, the Rangers have given up five goals on the penalty kill in this series, though they also scored once shorthanded.

New York’s power play has fallen to 26.1 percent over the course of these playoffs, still fourth best in the League. The penalty kill now sits at 83 percent (fifth best). Florida, which came into the series with worse numbers, now is closing in with a 25 percent power play and has surpassed New York with an 87.2 percent penalty kill, second in the NHL

In Game 4, the Rangers finally managed to score one power play goal, but their penalty kill allowed two goals to the Panthers, including the overtime winner. Even Florida’s one even-strength goal came right as a Rangers penalty was expiring.

More likely than not, special teams will be the determining factor in who goes to the Stanley Cup Final.

Related: Where Filip Chytil fits in Rangers’ Game 5 lineup vs. Panthers

Rangers hope to carry positive power-play momentum into Game 5 against Panthers

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

In Game 4, the Rangers cashed in on their first power play, but were unable to on their second chance, despite coming close with several high-danger scoring chances, one of which was Mika Zibanejad’s shot that deflected off Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and the crossbar.

Failure to score on that man-advantage proved to be a key moment since the Rangers were unable to double their 1-0 lead at the time. On the game winner, the Panthers made quick work of their power-play opportunity, wasting no time with quick passes and Sam Reinhart’s blast from the slot over Igor Shesterkin’s glove.

“Their second power play last night did everything but score, and ours did,” Maurice said. “Their second power play was dynamic. They score on the first one, and they had three ‘A’ chances on the second one. I think our power play was exactly like theirs, we just got ours to go.”

A good sign for the Rangers is the fact that their power play seemed to come alive in Game 4. In the first three games of the series, the power play was ice cold, and failed to generate any real prime opportunities. The Blueshirts will look to carry some momentum there into Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. They will need it if they want to come out victorious, and be just one victory away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

As Maurice explained, the margin for error is much smaller as the series reaches its late stages. The team which can win the special teams battle has a great chance of advancing.

Let’s see if the Rangers can turn that back in their favor, beginning with Game 5.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh

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