Panthers Have Rangers On Ropes, But There's Still Time to Bounce Back

Panthers Have Rangers On Ropes, But There's Still Time to Bounce Back

I am genuinely curious about something, so before I get into anything else, I have a simple question. Using pure gut reaction, does it feel like the New York Rangers are 10-4 in these playoffs? And to follow up on that question, does it feel like these same Rangers are a mere 6 wins away from hockey immortality?

The answers to both questions, at least for me, is no. And that is entirely because of recency bias which stems from a bitter one-goal loss to the Florida Panthers in Game 4 in overtime which evened things up to send both teams back to New York for what is going to be a very pivotal Game 5. And I guess that's just the nature of the sports and the "it's so over, and we're so back" mindset.

There's been no shortage of taeks, of which I've contributed some both publicly and privately, and I would say that the overwhelming opinion posits that the Rangers are lucky to be returning home tied 2-2, and not 3-1 facing elimination tonight. Some still believe they are goalie and special teams merchants, which is interesting given how much they've had to do things 5v5 in this series.

There's been headlines talking about justice for the Panthers, and how it would have been a travesty had the Rangers "eked out" another victory in extra time to head home up 3-1 with three shots to deliver a knockout punch to the 2023 Eastern Conference champions.

To all of that... I roll my eyes, shrug my shoulders, write out a tweet, delete it, start to type another one, and come to the realization that my time and energy would be better spent coming here. There's some truth to what's being said, but at the same time there's been some overreacting because the team in question is the Rangers.

I'm a big proponent of analytics, and feel they can be very useful. The analytics which suggested that Alexis Lafrenière was a player on the rise and capable of being a star the past few seasons are the same ones that also play a role in explaining why the Rangers are having some of the problems they are. This is to say that the numbers mean something, and we can't like them in one moment and then hate them the next to fit our narrative. Nuance is important, and at the end of the day they play the games for a reason, and the team that wins isn't always the "best" one.

That said, I have found it interesting on broadcasts that during the series against Carolina the stat du jour was shots on goal, and it was routinely pointed out when there was a large disparity. But that's changed in this series with there being some moments where shots have pretty close vs. Florida period to period (like 19-15 FLA-NYR after 40 minutes in G3), and that's resulted in shot attempts now being in vogue. Shot quality remains the most important factor, and while the Rangers aren't generating as many as you'd like them to, the ones they are putting on net are generally quality ones.

The on net and from the slot categories are of most importance to me, and while the total disparity is wide, I feel it's akin to an NBA strategy of taking a bunch of long three-pointers, but in hockey each goal is worth just one point. The fact remains that the Rangers need to play better, but I don't remember this narrative during last year's ECF when the Panthers were essentially playing the role of the Rangers. More on that in chart form in just a bit.

Come playoff time, it doesn't matter how you win... it is just about getting the job done, and to the Rangers' credit they've shown all year long a particular talent of winning in different ways.

In the playoffs you just need 16 wins, and the way you get them doesn't always come in a way that would make you successful for the entirety of an 82-game season.

Yes, they rely heavily on Igor Shesterkin, nothing new for anyone who's followed this team since 2005-06, and not to channel Bill Cobbs as coach Arthur Chaney in Air Bud, but there's nothing in the rule book that says you can have an elite goaltender to help you win games. The team also has a really good power play, this series aside, and that's something that certainly gives them a boost when it is firing at full capacity.

In the playoffs you can be a really good team and lose, which has been evident for the Carolina Hurricanes, because hockey is still a game played on a slick surface with a bouncing puck and rife with randomness. You often need other things to go your way too, and the fact that the Rangers have already earned some wins with some of their bigger names remaining quiet should instill some confidence.

In other words, if the Rangers are finding ways without their stars, the law of averages and reason should suggest that eventually things will turn around and they will reap the benefits of that. The only problem here is that in the interim the team can only afford one more loss, so time is of the essence.

Luckily the Rangers have set a record, and counting, for comeback wins in a regular season and playoffs, and when the going gets tough... they have had a knack for getting it going. FFS, Barclay Goodrow has 6 goals in these playoffs, and that is the same total of goals he had in his playoff career entering this season. All of this is to say, weird shit happens in the playoffs, and it doesn't always make sense, but when the unexpected happens... it is bad to let it go to waste.

As down as this fanbase likely feels given how poorly the Rangers played for most of Game 4, a performance on the whole that I think was better than what they showed in a win in Game 3, Game 5 offers a chance to reset feelings and the narrative.

It is an opportunity to prove that the Rangers are a top team in the league, and they deserve to be here.

It is an opportunity for players like Mika Zibanejad and Artemiy Panarin to shape their legacy and how they will be remembered. Kreider has room to be better too, but his performance in Game 6 vs Carolina gives him a pass in my eyes from otherwise harsher criticism.


In these playoffs we've seen players like Jason Robertson of the Dallas Stars go 10 games without a goal, and respond with a hat trick when his team needed him most. Zibanejad hasn't scored since Game 1 against the Hurricanes, and is pointless in this series. Panarin last scored the overtime winner in Game 3 vs. the Hurricanes, and has just 5 assists in his last 7 playoff games.

Prior to a big 3rd period vs. the Hurricanes, Kreider last picked up a point in Game 3 vs the Hurricanes. Something has to give at some point, and if it doesn't... it's going to be a long conversation that dominates the summer months.

Game 5 is a contest that generally decides a series, although that's not always been the case. The Rangers have had to win back-to-back Games 6 and 7 before, and I am sure many of you remember some of the positive moments, but there are also some bitter Game 7 losses that still sting to this day.

The Rangers have shown they can win on the road in Sunrise, and I think we'd all agree that the preferable path is a Game 5 win which affords New York two chances to knock Florida out.

But for that to happen, I think Peter Laviolette needs to use a game on home ice to make some adjustments, and do things that give his team a chance to win. He's been patient all season long, and seemingly pushed the right buttons each and every time, and not taking advantage of tonight's opportunity to do things differently would be a miscalculation.

I think that this set of lines offers the Rangers' the best chance of slowing Florida down and stopping the onslaught of attempts against. When I look at Game 3 and Game 4, I am reminded of the Knicks in the playoffs and how it looked when they were unable to rebound... especially on the offensive glass. They were a depleted team with tons of injuries, but it is speaking to the larger analogy of how the Indiana Pacers played with intensity and pace and just wore them down.

If you can't regain possession, box out, or clear the zone, you are going to spend most of your shift defending and not generating offense. That's what happened when the series shifted to Indiana, and after getting their asses thoroughly whooped in Game 4, they returned home to Madison Square Garden and ran the Pacers out the gym.

When you are defending too much, you run out of gas, and when the opposition is able to build and build and build, things tend to spiral out of control. Florida, much like Carolina, thrives off of volume, but unlike the Hurricanes they are able to hold the zone longer and wear you down more. It's something the Panthers took away from last year's Eastern Conference Final, and have since applied to their game.


GF% - Goals For Percentage | SF% - Shots For Percentage | FF% - Fenwick For Percentage (Unblocked Shot Attempts) | CF% - Corsi For Percentage (Shot Attempts) | xGF% - Expected Goals For Percentage

The Rangers now are in a similar spot, statistically after 4 games, that Florida was in last year, and they now should embrace home ice and lengthen their lineup by distributing talent throughout, and also systematically utilize the defensemen at their disposal. I think the defense is the biggest opportunity, and making tweaks there can open things up to lead in the Rangers generating more chances on offense.

Ryan Lindgren is a warrior and a heart and soul guy, but his mobility is really limited, and he's been targeted by Florida heavily. If they advance, they will need him to be as much of the Lindgren of old as he can offer, and he will need time to rest and recover for that. Right now he's hurting Adam Fox, who has been playing with an injury since Round 1, and it plays a role in why the team has been so challenged trying to exit the zone.

Erik Gustafsson is a mobile defender known for his ability to pass and skate up the ice, and he's had a lot of success with Fox in the regular season.

Evolving-Hockey - NYR Defense Pairs with at least 100 minutes at 5v5

Gustafsson took Lindgren's place in the 3rd period when No. 55 had to briefly go to the dressing room, and his keep in and subsequent pass from the wall on the blue line ultimately ended in a goal scored by Lafrenière.

At a bare minimum, Gustafsson is someone that should move to the top pairing, and ideally Lindgren should also come out to be replaced by Zac Jones.

Jones is another defenseman known for his mobility and passing acumen, and pairing him with Jacob Trouba on the bottom pair would shelter the Rangers' captain, and also help the team with zone exits when that duo gets shifts with the third or fourth line.

Toward the ends of the season the Rangers gave Jones some playing time, and he looked good and added an element that is sorely missed right now. That would result in Braden Schneider reuniting with K'Andre Miller, a pairing that has room for improvement, but offers more upside than Miller-Trouba.

Interestingly enough, Gustafsson-Trouba was the best pairing by xGF%, but Laviolette broke it up to reunite Miller and Trouba which has not only been worse, but resulted in the reuniting of the Gustafsson-Schneider pairing which hasn't been as solid as it was in the regular season.


As for the forward combinations, my logic is pretty simply. The Rangers would finally be treating Panarin-Trocheck-Lafrenière like the top line it truly is, and it would prioritize it getting offensive zone draws. Lafrenière has been the team's best forward, and he needs more time to cook.

As for the 2nd line, Kreider and Filip Chytil have played well together in the past, and putting Kakko on the right side gives them a worker bee along the boards, and a defensive presence for when things go the other way. It forces Kreider to be more assertive away from his long-time linemate, and gets him more into the action.

Zibanejad drawing 3rd line duty with Cuylle and Roslovic would force Florida to make some matchup decisions, and depending on what they choose, could create opportunities to generate offense against some of Florida's lesser players. Cuylle and Roslovic are two talented straight line skaters, and having both as options would help break through the mud at 5v5. Having their collective skating ability and speed should lead to extended zone time, and in due time that should help the Rangers tilt the ice in their favor.

Lastly, the 4th line has a trio of forwards with the ability to play center and take faceoffs, and becomes a bit of a swiss army knife with the ability to log minutes, work along the boards, and play a neutral game overall. I think they'd be able to offer more than just neutral play, but the Rangers just need them to be average.

The best thing I can say about this group of forwards is that it would offer Laviolette a deep group to create alternate combinations if something wasn't working, because at this point Matt Rempe and Blake Wheeler are unlikely to be counted on to play more than 10:00 a game. That matters for potential overtime situations, and also matters in the event Florida is once again able to generate chances and zone time which results in the team having to defend more than they otherwise would like. Having the pseudo safety net of Game 5 not being an elimination game allows for some experimentation, and if you find something that works and you win the game, the team is that much better off for the remainder of the series.

All in all, this is essentially a rambling of thoughts in my brain. As bad as things seem, feel, or look to be... the Rangers are tied 2-2 in a best of 3 series with the potential of 2 games being played on home ice at Madison Square Garden. That's what you want at this time of year, and it's better to have that advantage then the inverse of having to potentially win two more games on the road.

The Blueshirts have yet to show the best of themselves in this series, and based on what they did in the regular season, you have to have faith that they can pull things together. And if they were to take advantage of home ice and make some of the changes I suggested, I truly think it helps their chances of winning the game and subsequent series.

The Rangers are on the ropes right now, but there's a lot of reasons to believe in them, their ability to strike back, and weather this period of adversity and continue their quest toward winning their first Stanley Cup since 1994. I said Rangers in 6 before the series, and I am sticking to that prediction. That said, I reserve the right to change that to Rangers in 7... subject to the result of tonight's game.