Rangers' promising season comes to disappointing end with 2-1 loss to Panthers in Game 6

The Rangers’ promising season, one full of Stanley Cup hopes, came to a disappointing end Saturday night when they lost to the Florida Panthers, 2-1, in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Sunrise, Fla.

The Panthers won the best-of-seven series, four games to two, to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive season and the third time in franchise history. Sam Bennett and Vladimir Tarasenko scored goals for the Panthers, who await the winner of the series between Edmonton and Dallas.

The Blueshirts, meanwhile, head into an off-season of what-might-have-beens and what-ifs after winning the Presidents’ Trophy and a team-record 55 games. But they finished short of their first Cup Final since 2014 and their first Cup since 1994.

Here are the main takeaways…

– The Rangers were resilient all season and set an NHL record with 34 comeback victories between the regular season and the playoffs combined. But they could not add one more rally when they needed it most after falling behind in the first period. Artemi Panarin scored his first goal of the series with 1:40 left in the third period and Igor Shesterkin out of the net for an extra attacker to pull the Rangers within 2-1.

-Several of the Rangers’ biggest stars on offense struggled during the series and that doubtless will be a storyline leading into next season. Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox did not score a goal in the six games and Panarin and Chris Kreider had one apiece. Alexis Lafreniére led the Rangers with four goals and Barclay Goodrow had three.

-The Rangers had early momentum in the first period, but it ended with them down 1-0, as the Panthers took over play and benefitted from a neutral zone turnover to score with 49.3 seconds left in the period. Sam Bennett tallied on a blazing slap shot that beat Shesterkin on the glove side after a nice give-and-go sequence with Evan Rodrigues. Bennett brought the puck into the zone and Rodrigues was free after Jacob Trouba tried to check him and missed. The Rangers checked replays to see if Florida was offside on the play, but they decided not to challenge.

-In the second period, both teams had stretches where they carried play and the period ended with Florida outshooting the Rangers, 11-9. Shesterkin stopped Matthew Tkachuk on a breakaway during the period, perhaps aided by a slash by K’Andre Miller that was not called. Tkachuk sure wanted a call. The Rangers had a flukey chance late in the period when the puck bounced through the Panthers’ crease after a carom off the back wall. They nearly got a goal because the puck bounced so close to Bobrovsky’s skate. But the Rangers could not get it into the net otherwise, either, and it bounded away, harmlessly.

-The Panthers took a 2-0 lead with 10:52 left in the third when a former Ranger scored a crucial goal. Anton Lundell sent a cross-ice pass down low to Vladimir Tarasenko, who was stationed on Shesterkin’s left. The puck had been dumped into the Ranger zone and Lundell and Miller hunted it and Lundell won to begin the play that led to a goal.

-The Rangers power play was a strength during the regular season, but the PP struggled against the Panthers. It entered Game 6 having gone 1-for-14 on the power play during the series and then went 0-for-1 in Game 6.

-The Rangers did some line re-working at the start of the game, moving Alex Wennberg up to the first line and putting him on a wing with Chris Kreider and center Mika Zibanejad. Filip Chytil, who had been a winger on that line, was moved to third-line center and Jack Roslovic was shifted to the fourth line. Matt Rempe, the hard-hitting cult hero, was a scratch, replaced in the lineup by Jonny Brodzinski.

MVP: Sergei Bobrovsky

The Florida goalie saved 22-of-23 shots in a crucial game.


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