Keys To the East: How the Rangers Can Tame The Panthers For Eastern Crown

It's time to hunt again for the New York Rangers. They've won eight playoff games and defied the odds, "upsetting" the Vegas bettors by defeating the Carolina Hurricanes. However, they still need eight more to reach their goal of winning a Stanley Cup. Yet, to reach their first final in a decade, they must beat the East's reigning beasts, the Florida Panthers. This series should be a classic, so let's consider what to expect. 
Florida Panthers v New York Rangers
Florida Panthers v New York Rangers / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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It's time to hunt again for the New York Rangers. They've won eight playoff games and defied the odds, "upsetting" the Vegas bettors by defeating the Carolina Hurricanes. However, they still need eight more to reach their goal of winning a Stanley Cup. It has been a while since I've written here, but what was said in the season-opening letter remains the same. It's a cup-or-bust year, which has been emphasized now that the Rangers grabbed the Presidents Trophy. Yet, to reach their first final in a decade, they must beat the East's reigning beasts, the Florida Panthers. This series should be a classic, so let's consider what to expect. 

The Rangers' success this season and in the playoffs is no mystery. Their winning formula is a potent mix of elite special teams, top-notch finishing ability, and herculean goaltending. It all starts with superstar goaltender Igor Shesterkin. He's leading all remaining goalies with a .923 save percentage and has saved 9.09 goals above expectation through 10 playoff games. Shesterkin is the backbone of the team and their most crucial player.

When not at even strength, the Ranger's special teams have been phenomenal. Their power play is converting at 31.4%, and their penalty kill is at 89.5%, ranking third and second among playoff teams. They also defeated the best special teams squad in the last series 7-2 with two shorthanded goals. 

Their best players have also been their best players. They've come through in the clutch. Chris Kreider was heroic with a natural hat trick to close out Game 6 in Carolina, and Artemi Panarin has scored four game-winners. Vincent Trocheck secured an OT win in Game 2, Alexis Lafrenière has scored crucial goals, and Mika Zibanejad has been consistently productive with 14 points (three goals and 11 assists).

This approach has helped the Rangers overcome their average five-on-five performance. Yet they've proved how incredibly opportunistic they are by hanging with the even-strength champions in the Canes. 

 The Panthers are strong at five-on-five, but the same was true for the Hurricanes. The Rangers have shown they can win with quality shots over quantity, especially in shot totals—they were outshot in all six games against Carolina. However, most of their chances were quality ones from game to play. Yet all of the Rangers' momentum will be undone if they cave into the heaviness of the Panthers' physical forecheck and succumb to their defensive pressure.

Like the Hurricanes, the Panthers have been among the top teams this year in creating shots and preventing them at even strength. So, just like before, the Rangers' High-Danger Chance ratio will be crucial. As they did last series, maintaining high-danger chances at around 50% is a good beginning, but the real key lies in keeping Florida's high-danger chances under 6. That's the most effective way to disrupt their offensive momentum.

This Florida team is packed with all-star talent in every position, but their tenacity sets them apart, which will undoubtedly play a vital role in this series.

Leading the charge is superstar Matthew Tkachuk, one of the NHL's fiercest competitors. Then there are the forwards like Sam Bennett, Nick Cousins, and Ryan Lomberg, and a defensive lineup that's big, mobile, can move the puck effectively, and knows how to use its size to dominate. Even Sam Reinhart, who scored 57 goals, plays with snarl.

Due to the similar playing styles, I believe this will be an up-and-down series that feels like a version of intelligent pond hockey. Both teams will take chances and use their speed when they can. So, let's dive into the stars of the show.