Rangers find energy in overtime thriller: ‘Going to be a dogfight’

Barclay Goodrow played the hero on Friday night as he scored the game-winning goal in overtime to lift the New York Rangers over the Florida Panthers 2-1. Vincent Trochek scored the other goal for New York and Carter Verhaeghe scored Florida's.

NEW YORK — As Barclay Goodrow zipped a puck over the right shoulder of Sergei Bobrovsky to freeze the clock and trigger a joyous mob of hockey hugs inside Madison Square Garden, a whole city sensed relief.

Some fourth-liner flair for the dramatic plus some fourth-period heroics sets us up for some kinda best-of-five as the Eastern Conference Final flies to Sunrise.

Yes, 74 minutes and 93 hits after the puck dropped, and following two scoreless frames, Goodrow delivered hope for the New York Rangers, who snapped the Florida Panthers‘ incredible 11-game post-season overtime win streak with a 2-1 victory.

“Oh my gosh. That was unbelievable. Absolute snipe,” fellow fourth-liner Matt Rempe beamed in the winners’ dressing room. “That guy takes all the D-zone draws. Penalty killer. Does all the greasy things. To see him score an OT winner was unbelievable.

“Goody’s that guy.”

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Goodrow is a champion of few shifts and fewer words, but the undrafted 31-year-old has been clutch for the Rangers in these playoffs.

His four goals, two of them game-winners, tie his 80-game regular-season total and mark a new post-season high.

On Friday, he dutifully plodded out in the defensive zone, swiped 10 of his 13 faceoffs, and killed penalties.

“He’s been so important to the locker room, the leadership group — a lot of stuff that nobody ever sees or talks about. He’s a massive part of this team,” praised captain Jacob Trouba. “I mean, the way he’s been playing in the playoffs. it’s a big reason why he’s one of those guys that gets teams to win, as he’s shown in his career.

“He’s a big-time player that shows up in big-time games.”

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This was as big-time as any Rangers game has been all season. Go down 2-0 to the defending Prince of Wales Trophy champs before the Panthers touch home ice, and with Florida’s patient and suffocating style, you can forget about beating them four out of five.

Rebounding nicely from Game 1’s deflating performance, a more invigorated version of the Rangers was on the hunt early.

A hard O-zone check by Alexis Lafreniere on Carter Verhaeghe helped stir chaos that led to Vincent Trocheck‘s opening strike and a nasty, tone-setting scrum that interrupted the celebration and pulled the crowd along for the ride.

“How can you not have energy when they’re chanting out there?” Rempe smiled.

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There was a crispness and aggressiveness to the Rangers’ attack in this one that measured up to the Panthers’ and had been sorely missing on Wednesday.

New York jumped from 27 hits in Game 1 to 51 in Game 2.

“I thought we were just sharper with everything we were doing,” Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette said.

Desperation led to focus and engagement led to increased O-zone time.

“That’s what happens when you get the two best teams in the conference. It’s going to be a battle,” said Verhaeghe, the only man to solve Igor Shesterkin on this night.

The commitment to shot-blocking and sturdy systems play from both sides was remarkable, and when shooters did shake free for Grade-A chances, both goaltenders were stellar. With a trio of goaltending royalty — Mike Richter, Henrik Lundqvist, and Roberto Luongo — in the building, watching closely.

“Pretty exciting,” Trouba said. “The series is going to be a dogfight. There isn’t a lot of room out there, either way.”

Moreover, there is not much room for criticism as two mature, well-coached teams teetertotter in a match that, truly, could have gone either way.

Heck, this is the type of high-intensity, low-risk hockey that even a losing coach can appreciate.

“I’m fine with tonight. You shouldn’t come in and beat the Presidents’ Trophy winner twice in their own building. You really shouldn’t,” Florida’s Paul Maurice said.

“It wasn’t a night for profanity.”

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Fox’s Fast Five

• A couple of days prior to making his Eastern Conference Final debut, Rempe hit up a vampire-themed escape room at The Puzzle Parlour in White Plains, N.Y., with teammate Adam Edstrom and his girlfriend.

“I wasn’t off to a hot start, but Eddie was buzzing,” Rempe regaled reporters. “The last half, I had some elite code breakers. The guy was so impressed that he took us out for wings after. It was some zodiac sign puzzle. I don’t know anything about zodiac signs, but I cracked it. Not a big deal. So, that was good. So, he took us out for wings. That was fun.”

Wait. Rempe was the third wheel on Edstrom’s date?

“No, she was third wheeling,” the rookie replied.

The big bruiser says it’s incredible to have his name mentioned by legends like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier — yet he felt like he had nothing to lose jumping back into the lineup.

“I’m 21. I have no pressure,” he said. “I just want to do the most. If I know that I work my hardest, I can look myself behind and say I’m proud of myself.”

Rempe logged 10:06 in Game 2, threw a game-high nine hits, won his only faceoff to a resounding cheer, and the Rangers improved to 15-2 at home when he plays.

“Time of my life out there,” Rempe said post-win, still buzzing off adrenalin. “I had to make the most of it. I wanted to be effective, and I don’t wanna let the team down.”

• Adam Fox set up Trocheck with a pretty assist to open the scoring, after going pointless in five games and minus-5 over his past seven.

New York needs its No. 1 D-man involved in its offence if it hopes to reach the next round.

• Overshadowed by Rempe Mania is the disappointment that has been Kaapo Kakko this season.

The 23-year-old has just one goal, one assist, and is a minus-1 in 11 playoff games. Hence, the healthy scratch.

Kakko’s production dipped in Year 5. His 13 goals and six assists this season are hardly befitting of a second-overall draft choice who should be hitting his stride by now.

• Blake Wheeler took warmups for the first time since suffering his gruesome leg injury on Feb. 15. That’s a sign we could see the veteran enter the series sooner rather than later.

Jimmy Vesey took a hard hit from Ryan Lomberg in the second period and left the game with an upper-body injury. He’s still being evaluated.

• Here’s Dmitry Kulikov nailing Alex Wennberg’s head in open ice. Ouch.

Kulikov was initially dealt a five-minute major, which was reduced to an interference minor upon the officials’ video review.

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