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Panthers and Rangers – Conference Finals Preview

This one should be must-watch television.

After two gruelling rounds of Eastern Conference playoff hockey, only the Panthers and Rangers remain in the hunt for Lord Stanley. Both teams are yet to go past six games in a series, and so far, they’ve done nothing but prove themselves as the two best teams in the conference. Now, we all get to enjoy what should be a fantastic series as both teams battle for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals. Today, we’re breaking down how each team can get the job done and move on.

The Panthers

For Florida, this postseason has been all about getting another chance at the Cup. After last year’s Cinderella run, the team came into training camp with only one goal in mind, and they haven’t lost sight of that goal for nine months. Now, they find themselves heading into a series with the New York Rangers. The Rangers are probably the best team they’ve faced in the East since round one last year against Boston, and the Panthers will certainly need a full effort from everyone to get past them. 

One of the guys they’ll be relying on the most is Alex Barkov. Florida’s captain is currently the team’s favorite for the Conn Smythe, as his terrific 200-foot game has been on full display so far in the playoffs. With the large majority of New York’s offence coming from their top two lines, Barkov’s defensive ability will be a massive factor in this series. If he’s able to mostly neutralize the Trocheck or the Zibanejad line, Florida’s path to the Cup becomes significantly easier.

When it comes to keeping the puck out of their own net, the Panthers would love for Sergei Bobrovsky to heat up in this series. He hasn’t been bad by any means, but his save percentage of .902% is down a fair bit from last year’s .916%. The team has still been better defensively as a whole, and Bob is finding ways to make big saves when they’re needed most, but things will certainly look good if he turns in his best series of the postseason. New York’s powerplay is also better than 30% right now, and sometimes, a goaltender needs to be a team’s best penalty killer. 

The Rangers

New York hasn’t been to the Finals since 2014, but they’ve been a great team for a few years now. Just two seasons ago, they took Tampa Bay to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals, and after last year’s disappointing first round exit, they look like a team on a mission. Florida will certainly be the most physical team they’ve seen in the postseason thus far, but New York has the muscle to deal with that, especially on the back end. I’m sure they’ll be ready for a very physical series.

The Panthers and Rangers both have a lot of difference makers on the roster, but for New York, the list starts with goaltender Igor Shesterkin. Of the remaining goaltenders, Shesterkin’s save percentage of .923% ranks first. He also holds a record of 8-2-0, which gives him the best winning percentage among all goalies in the playoffs with more than two games played. With the offensive firepower of both the Panthers and Rangers, goaltending may end up making the difference in this series. While Shesterkin does have a slight edge statistically, he’ll have to be great for the Rangers.

Out on the ice, New York’s offence revolves around a very good core group of forwards. Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider have pitched in as expected, while other guys like Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere have been all over the scoresheet as well. If both of New York’s top forward lines can continue to produce, I think it’ll be very tough for Florida to stick with them on offence. However, the Panthers will be better defensively and harder to play against than anything the Rangers have seen thus far. New York’s talented forwards need to execute on both the powerplay and during five-on-five play. 

Panthers and Rangers – The Pick

It’s not every year that the Conference Finals comes down to the top two seeds. For the Panthers and Rangers, though, this matchup seemed destined to happen. Both teams seem healthy and ready to go the distance, but of course, only one of them can represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals. Both score a lot of goals and are backed by extremely talented goaltenders that have the ability to steal a game. I think this series will come down to offensive execution. The Rangers’ power play has been terrific thus far, and I think they can find a way to stay hot. With Shesterkin doing his thing and the home ice advantage playing a factor at MSG, I like the Rangers in this one. It’ll be tightly contested the entire way, but let’s take NEW YORK IN SEVEN.

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