Recap: Rangers Behind in a Series For First Time These Playoffs

The good news? The Rangers played better and have gotten very far without trailing in a playoff series this year. The not so good news? They’re now on the brink of the e word none of us fans want to think about. Morale isn’t great right now but we know what this team is, they love a comeback and are a very good team. What they’re doing isn’t easy, it’s frankly the hardest journey in sports and now, we’ll have to see how they answer when it’s all truly on the line. But first, here’s how we got here:

1st Period:

Another choppy start with two quick whistles but as the Rangers settled into things, it became a relatively solid period for them. Far from perfect as they were still turning the puck over way more than they should, especially in their own end. However, they were playing with some speed and generating more of the offense which was certainly a good sign. About five minutes in, Eetu Luostarainen slashed and broke the stick of Alexander Wennberg which earned him the first penalty of the night, sending the Rangers to the power play. 

Overall, the Rangers top power play unit looked better to start this one but they were still a little on the shaky side, spending more time passing the puck around with the occasional clear from Florida. Shortly after the teams returned to even strength, Sam Bennett ended up with one of Florida’s best chances as he tickled the post after finding the puck all alone in front of Igor Shesterkin.

The Rangers had a great chance on a beautiful rush from K’Andre Miller but just as Vincent Trocheck dropped it back to Artemiy Panarin for the shot, the whistle blew as Miller was called for roughing Vlad Tarasenko. You could argue it was another questionable call for playoff hockey, you could argue that was a dumb penalty for Miller to take, either way the Rangers penalty killers had a huge task on their hands. Thankfully, they were successful but another failed attempt at clearing the zone resulted in the puck ending up on the stick of Kevin Stenlund who was all alone in front. 

This required a key save from Igor Shesterkin that he was able to contain after trickling slightly underneath him. This led to another great chance the other way as a successful zone clearing attempt ended up on the stick of Trocheck who got a partial breakaway out of it. Sergei Bobrovsky was able to make the save but a flurry of action in front resulted in some great chances for that Rangers line. 

That would do it for the first twenty as the Rangers out-shot the Panthers 11-8 and led them in high danger chances 6-4. Generally speaking, it was a better period for the Rangers who also won 65% of the face-offs, led in shot attempts and slightly out-hit their opponent but the turnovers were a noticeable shortcoming. On top of that, it was looking to be a better night for their star players but as we’ve learned the hard way throughout this series, one period doesn’t dictate how a game plays out. The Rangers would need to keep their foot on the gas. 

2nd Period:

One of, if not the biggest critiques of the Rangers play in this series is spending too much time in their own end which is typically a result of too many forced passes that become turnovers. Another example of that came early in the second as a buddy pass in the neutral zone led to Florida taking it back in the Rangers end and K’Andre Miller picking up his second penalty of the night, this time for tripping. Another big penalty kill would prove to be the games first difference maker on a play that started and ended with Chris Kreider. 

An active stick from him at the point broke the puck loose for Mika Zibanejad to go north with it. Kreider used his speed to break free and once his best buddy got him the puck, he took it straight to the back of the net. The Rangers stars showing up, 1-0 Rangers with yet another shorthanded goal. 

Soon after the teams returned to even strength, Adam Fox got tripped up at the end of a solid shift where the Rangers were beginning to apply some additional pressure. It was Kyle Okpsoo taking him down which gave the Rangers their second man advantage of the night. About forty second into it, a shorthanded chance from Stenlund left a rebound for Niko Mikkola who came crashing into Shesterkin. It would have been a 5-on-3 but of course a scrum ensued afterwards which prompted the officials to give Gustafsson a penalty as well. Truly unbelievable. Perhaps if they didn’t let Florida run the Rangers netminder all series long these scuffles wouldn’t happen but what do I know? 

With well over a minute still to go on the power play, the Rangers wouldn’t get enough going with it to be able to convert which was certainly a bit of a missed chance to really build off their shorthanded goal. They were still playing strong and had a couple of strong shifts in Florida’s end of the ice but as we approached the midway point of the night, there would be an unfortunate switch in energy. A great feed from Bennett found a pressing Gustav Forsling all alone down the slot where he was able to walk right in to roof a backhander past Shesterkin, 1-1 game. 

Less than a minute later, Jacob Trouba was back to the penalty box for holding the stick of Anton Lundell. That’s Trouba’s eleventh penalty of the postseason. This is the Rangers 15th game. Unreal. At any rate, the Rangers came up with another big kill and got right back to how they were playing the game all night long. The second period would be another step in the right direction despite giving up the Forsling goal. There were a couple shifts where they were generating lengthy possession in the offensive zone and had lots of great scoring chances. 

Shots were 21-17 after two and despite the positives, the Rangers were now trailing again in attempts and high danger chances. An eerily similar position both teams have been in heading into the final period all series long. The priority for the Blueshirts would again be keeping their foot on the gas and not falling victim to Florida’s pesky offense. 

3rd Period:

It was a scary seven minutes to start the period as it was again, mostly Florida controlling the play. The closest call came on a Dmitry Kulikov chance that hit the post but the Rangers were able to take care of it from there. Nearing the midway point as the Rangers were finally in Florida’s end of the ice, Niko Mikkola tripped up Kaapo Kakko behind the net to send the Rangers back to the power play. 

Hindsight and all those painful cliches but this team’s inability to convert on the power play the way we know they can is truly becoming a serious issue. They had some looks but… you know the rest. Just over the ten minute mark, an odd-man rush for Florida ended with Anton Lundell finding the back of the net as his shot trickled its way in, 2-1 Florida. 

It’s not easy to do, especially right now but you have to give the Rangers credit. They didn’t just roll over after the goal, they got right back to work and were still giving it what they’ve had throughout the majority of the night. With about three and a half to go, Peter Laviolette put his best five out there and made it six by pulling Shesterkin. You could argue it was a little early but again, hindsight and all that. It wasn’t an immediate disappointment but Sam Bennett found the back of the net with under two minutes to go. Heartbreaking, but not completely. 

With an added layer of desperation, the Rangers had some extra jump and were able to bring themselves within one. Kudos to the Rangers equipment team as Zibanejad was able to quickly get a new stick after breaking his which led to him finding Alexis Lafrenière with the shot right at the doorstep to redirect the puck in, 3-2 with 50 seconds to go. 

The Rangers unintentionally iced the puck which cost them big time and as the Panthers were able to hold the puck along the corner of the boards in the final ten seconds or so, time would expire. For the first time these playoffs, the Rangers are down in a series and it couldn’t come at a worse point. Now, it becomes do or die as they’ll head back to Sunrise in hopes of returning to MSG early next week for a Game 7.