Stubborn Rangers in unfamiliar waters for these playoffs

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

The New York Rangers are in unfamiliar waters after losing Game 1 on Wednesday to the Florida Panthers by a 3-0 score. For the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blueshirts are behind in a series.

Held to just a meager 23 shots, 11 of which came in the third period, the Rangers failed to adjust to what the Panthers were doing defensively. Time and time again, they were playing hope hockey trying to make long stretch passes from their own zone that were easily intercepted. Carrying the puck was no better, as they were repeatedly stonewalled trying to enter the Florida zone, instead of playing the grinding dump-and-chase style that is usually prevalent this late into the postseason.

“We were stubborn going up ice with it,” lamented Chris Kreider. “They weren’t.”

“We didn’t put ourselves in a position to generate a whole lot. When we got a little behind, we generated a couple of chances here and there, but not frequently enough.”

Despite the struggles to get any sustained pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky, it was only a 1-0 contest until Alexis Lafreniere had a Carter Verhaeghe pass bounce off his stick and past Igor Shesterkin with 3:48 remaining in the contest.

“It was a 1-0 game the whole time, and then we had the fluke goal to make it 2-0,” coach Peter Laviolette explained. “We slowly got better as the game went on, but I still think there’s gears to go.”

Related: Adam Fox health a concern

Rangers in unfamiliar waters

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

A ton of credit needs to go to the Panthers, who effectively executed their game plan, which centered around solid defense. Over the course of 60 minutes, they kept it very simple and boring to remove the Madison Square Garden crowd as a factor.

“They played a smart simple game,” captain Jacob Trouba said. “They don’t turn many pucks over, and they do a good job of getting in the zone, getting pucks deep, and forechecking. We’ve got to do the same. That’s kind of the game that’s got to be played. It’s not going to be a ton of run-and-gun. It’s going to be advancing the puck through zones and capitalizing on mistakes.”

There certainly were some great chances, but Bobrovsky stood tall. In particular, stopping an in-tight deflection from Vincent Trocheck, and later a Will Cuylle breakaway. When he didn’t make the save, he had the good fortune of Braden Schneider hitting the post on a breakaway, and Lafreniere hitting the iron trying to equalize late in the final frame.

Now the Rangers find themselves in a 1-0 hole to start the Eastern Conference Final. It’s not that big of an issue, unless they lose Game 2 on Friday. There’s no need to go into the percentages of how teams that lose the first two home games of a series are likely to be eliminated, even if the New Jersey Devils defied those odds against the Rangers last season.

However, these Rangers have risen to the challenges all year en route to 55 wins and 114 points to earn the Presidents’ Trophy. In the postseason, they’ve dominated the Washington Capitals, and dealt with the relentless attack of the Carolina Hurricanes to get to this position.

“We have to look at ourselves and what we need to do better,” Mika Zibanejad noted. “There’s room for– not improvement, but to raise our level.”

As dejected as everyone at the Garden felt when the final buzzer sounded, there’s no reason to doubt that the 2023-24 New York Rangers can’t tie this series up on Friday.

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: