‘You should be a little growly’: Dominated Rangers steal Game 3

Barclay Goodrow continued to impress in the ECF with a pair of goals, Alexis Lafreniere added another two goals and Alex Wennberg fired home the OT-winner as the New York Rangers survived a late comeback effort to defeat the Florida Panthers 5-4.

SUNRISE, Fla. — A wonderful game played on white ice with a black puck that thrives in the grey, hockey has forever been more fun than fair.

Unlike basketball and baseball and football, where possession of the object of play and opportunities to score are arranged to be equal, hockey hides a sword.

In our arena lies is a much greater danger/thrill of the better team losing.

Exhibit A: Game 3 of 2024 Eastern Conference Final, in which the host Florida Panthers dominated nearly every facet of their manic Sunday matinee against the New York Rangers, and yet still found themselves on the sad end of a 5-4 overtime decision and now trail their opportunistic foe 2-1 in the series.

Check these numbers out.

The Panthers thumped the Rangers 108-44 in shot attempts, 38-23 in shots, 46-20 in scoring chances, and 15-7 in high-danger chances. They had twice as many steals (10-5). They drew more penalties and actually converted on their power play (2-for-6), while smothering the Rangers’ man-advantage to the tune of 0-for 2, extending New York’s series-long power-play drought to 0-for-8. And even though the Cats hoarded the puck all afternoon, they still outhit their visitors 34-32.

“I don’t feel that there’s a glaring area where we are being offensively dominated in this series,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said, accurately, after suffering consecutive losses for the first time all postseason.

Both of Florida’s L’s were caught in the fourth period, where the Cats had frozen the clock on 11 straight playoff occasions… until they ran into the Rangers.

Calm under siege — hey, just ask Rod Brind’Amour’s Carolina Hurricanes how it feels — the NHL’s new OT kings are now 4-0 in the extra frame.

The Rangers are the pasty Fort Lauderdale tourist who lathers himself in olive oil, splays out on the beach and somehow escapes without a sunburn.

“Going into overtime in the playoffs like this, it’s anybody’s game,” reasons New York’s Vincent Trocheck. “A lot of times it’s a rinky-dink shot off a pad or something like that.”

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Something like that: A successful third-line O-zone draw, a sifter from the point from Ryan Lindgren, and a screen-slash-redirect from the previously goal-less Alex Wennberg that squeaks through Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bam. Just like that, Florida’s superior special-teams work and sustained O-zone pressure and inspired two-goal, third-period comeback goes for rot.

“The third was probably our toughest go in the series so far. We’re up 4-2, we’re under siege, they’re able to capitalize,” concedes Rangers coach Peter Laviolette. “That was by far their best period.”

The Rangers are firm believers that momentum halts between buzzers. That intermissions and resets can alter the outcome. Even when Sam Reinhart has hung them for two purposeful power-play strikes and Aleksander Barkov has flipped the beast mode switch.

So, as the lead vanished and the ice tilted toward Igor Shesterkin‘s crease, Laviolette called a timeout. A couple positive shifts, a flurry of desperate iced pucks, and they survived regulation.

A third intermission gave a mature room a chance to reinforce its OT mindset: Work for the next one.

“We have that belief in this group. Maybe not the most vocal kind of thing, but we all look at each other,” Wennberg explained. “We know what to do. And you see it when we get out there.”

Added Braden Schneider: “That’s not the way you want to do it sometimes. But when you’re coming in and we’ve got an OT game in the road, we’d be happy with where we’re at. We came in the room. We reset. We know we’re comfortable in that position. And yeah, I’m glad we got it done.”

The Blueshirts were positioned to get ‘er done thanks to a pair of highlight-reel, solo-effort rush goals by an inspired Alexis Lafreniere.

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Plus two more (one shorthanded) goals from fourth-line playoff stud Barclay Goodrow, who is singlehandedly keeping the absence of goals from headliners Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Adam Fox from being a headline back home.

They got it done, partly, because the Rangers blocked more shots and Shesterkin summoned more saves.

They got it done because hockey isn’t fair and, ultimately, the only analytic that matters is goals. Which is why we play best-of-sevens, to balance the luck and force-impose justice through sample size.

Disappointed but far from discouraged, Maurice pondered his next move. Usually, the coach prefers his players to quickly discard playoff losses. Set them free. Don’t allow them to sap more juice.

Not this one.

Not with those thief Rangers sneaking off into the night, tanned and happy and re-sheathing the sword.

“Sometimes you want to keep the growl,” Maurice said. “Keep it. Eat it. Let it burn for a while. And find a different kind of energy source.

“So, when you put up whatever we put up tonight and you don’t come away with the win, you should be a little growly.”

Fox’s Fast Five

• Because Jacob Trouba already had a delayed penalty for slashing incoming, did the truculent D-man believe he could get away with this blatant elbow on Evan Rodrigues?

And did referees Kevin Sutherland and Eric Furlatt, who deemed the infraction a minor upon review, not want to dish out seven penalty minutes to one player on a single shift?

Seriously: How vicious or intended does an elbowing major need to be?

Maurice offered only this on the elbow: “I think I got enough on my plate. I’m not going to do too any refereeing or player safety tonight. I’ll just stick with the coaching.”

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• Laviolette spoke with Kaapo Kakko both prior to benching him for Game 2, then again afterward. This was Kakko’s first healthy scratch since Gerard Gallant sat him down for the deciding Game 6 of the 2022 Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay.

“There’s a lot of things that factor into these decisions. We don’t take them lightly,” said Laviolette, who dropped Kakko back into Game 3 with Jimmy Vesey injured.

“I don’t think players necessarily have to like it. But there are decisions that have to be made. In order to get one person in, one person is going to come out. It’s just simple math.”

• Noting the well-traveling fan bases of Original Six opponents, Maurice argues that his group has played fewer “road games at home” this season, thanks to increased local interest from 2023’s run to the final.

And yet, as difficult as it was to spot a single Panthers fan at Madison Square Garden for games 1 and 2, it was easy to locate (and hear) New Yorkers inside Amerant Bank Arena Sunday.

The loud and proud “Let’s! Go! Ran-gers!” erupted well before warmups.

“We certainly understand it: Why wouldn’t you want to be in South Florida?” Maurice quipped. “Seems to be the trend.”

• Picking up a pair of assists, Matthew Tkachuk (57 points in 61 games) now holds the family title for Most Career Playoff Points, surpassing dad Keith (56 points in 89 games) with tons of runway to spare.

• Ah, so that’s what I should be doing before beer league…

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