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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Matthew Tkachuk, Jacob Trouba, Jonathan Quick
New York Rangers v Florida Panthers / Joel Auerbach/GettyImages

The Top Six:

Both top lines have much in common and feature vital two-way centers and wingers. The Rangers have Chris Kreider Mika Zibanejad, and Jack Roslovic. The Panthers' top line has former Blueshirt Vladimir Tarasenko, Aleksander Barkov, and Sam Reinhart.

Barkov, who just won his second Selke Trophy, leads the line with a 56.3% expected goals for percentage (xGF) in the playoffs, according to, compared to Zibanejad's line at 46.5%. With the addition of Tarasenko, a known playoff performer, the Panthers' top line might have a slight edge. If I'm Peter Laviolette, the third line of Filip Chytil, Alex Wenberg, and Kaapo Kakko should match and shutdown the trio.

However, it's the second-line matchup where the Blueshirts can dominate. New York has Vincent Trochcek, Artemi Panarin, and Alexis Lafreniere. Trocheck's line was the league's highest-scoring unit this season, racking up 54 goals with an average of 3.75 goals per 60. Panarin led the charge with 120 points (49 goals and 71 assists), but Trocheck (77) and Lafrenière (57) also hit new career highs to make this a well-balanced attack. 

The Panthers have Carter Verhaeghe, Anton Lundell, and Matthew Tkachuk. Lundell, at just 22, moved up to replace Sam Bennett during Friday's series-clinching win over the Boston Bruins, and this is the lineup they're expected to start in the Eastern Conference Finals. All three players have been threats, with at least nine points each in the playoffs. Tkachuk leads with 14 points, and he and Verhaeghe have combined for 11 game-winning goals over the last two postseasons. Florida will mix and match its top-six forwards, with Barkov's line sometimes tasked with shutting down the breadman. Given how evenly matched these two teams are, the last change on home ice and favorable matchups will be crucial in this series.