Rangers’ offense needs to figure out how to get around Panthers’ defensive prowess – and quickly – ahead of Game 2

Rangers Igor Shesterkin
New York Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren (55) and goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) look to the referee for a goalie interference call after the Florida Panthers scored a goal during the third period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoff finals, Wednesday, May 22, 2024, in New York. After a challenge by the Rangers and further review the goal was taken away. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

The Rangers had been undefeated on their home ice heading into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but head coach Peter Laviolette and his team received a serious reality check from the defense-minded Florida Panthers.

Taking a 1-0 lead late in the first period, Florida thwarted any opportunity the Rangers produced offensively. An own-goal off the stick of Alexis Lafreniere late in the third period made it 2-0 and an empty net goal wrapped up a 3-0 loss for the Blueshirts, the first time they have trailed in any series this postseason.

“I thought we had opportunities that we didn’t cash in on,” said Laviolette postgame. “I thought we were slow out of the gate in the first. Second period was tight… the third period I thought we picked it up a little bit, we were able to generate some offense, get into the offensive zone and get some looks.”

Florida established their presence as soon as the puck touched the ice in the first, coming off a six-game series against the Boston Bruins, the Panthers looked fresh and well-rested. New York on the other hand still looked like they were licking their wounds from a challenging series against the Carolina Hurricanes. A physical series that looked like it took the Blueshirts a period to shake off in Game 1.

The first period is where the Panthers ultimately won the game.

A goal off the stick of Matthew Tkachuk was all Florida would need to settle in and shut down the Rangers offensive attack. While New York was still able to generate some offensive chances, Panthers’ net-minder Sergei Bobrovsky thwarted any threat from the Blueshirts. As he has proven to do in the postseason, Bobrovsky plays his sharpest when it matters most. Last night was another example of that as his shutout was his first of this postseason, right when the Panthers needed it most.

“I do think that getting into the offensive zone and delivering pucks on net is important,” said Laviolette. “It creates things, creates havoc, and breaks down defenses.”

Another glaring trend recently has been the Rangers’ lack of success on special teams.

In their last five games, the Blueshirts are a combined 1-12 on the man-up advantage, a disturbing trend as the power play unit has been one of the main calling cards of this team. As one of the top three units in terms of scoring on the power play in the regular season, it’s clear to see why the Rangers offense has fallen stagnant at points during this playoff run.

Now facing a series deficit for the first time in his career as the Rangers’ bench boss, Laviolette has preached remaining steadfast in his approach.

“I think we can play better. I don’t think that was the best version of ourselves and so we’ll look to see what they did, see what we can do better in all areas of the game. I think there is more for us to give and more for us to do out there.”