NHL: Panthers edge Rangers, get within a game of Stanley Cup Final

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NEW YORK — Anton Lundell does not possess the postseason pedigree of fellow teammates Aleksander Barkov, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk but the Florida Panthers know the potential exists.

The Panthers got a good look at his potential Thursday when Lundell helped move them to the verge of returning to the Stanley Cup final by scoring the tiebreaking goal with 9:38 remaining in the third period of a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final.

Lundell scored his sixth career postseason goal in 46 playoff games since the former first-round pick debuted during the 2021-22 season.

His clutch goal gave the Panthers a 3-2 series lead and they can clinch their third appearance in the Stanley Cup final in team history by winning Game 6 on Saturday in Sunrise, Fla. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy to clinch home ice throughout the postseason, the Rangers are hoping to get the series back to New York for Game 7 on Monday.

“That was huge,” Lundell said. “We had some good chances in the third. We’re playing really good, but we had chance after chance but we just kept grinding.”

“It was huge,” Barkov said of Lundell’s goal. “He’s stepped up before as a young kid in this league and he’s had so many big goals and he just looks like he keeps coming but he’s a great kid. It’s a lot of fun to watch him play.”

After a New York giveaway deep in its offensive zone, Eetu Luostarinen gained possession and waited for Lundell to cross into the Florida offensive zone.

Lundell got to the middle of the right circle and, as Vladimir Tarasenko went to the net, ripped a shot that sailed by Igor Shesterkin before New York defenseman Braden Schneider could get in position for the shot block.

“He’s still young,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said of Lundell, who has 43 career regular-season goals and turns 23 in October “That’s the thing we almost have to remind yourself about, he’s still a young player but a goal like this in a game like this, on the road, Game 5 (is big). I will call it a de facto game-winner because it changed the game. Good for him. I’m happy for him.”

“He’s a smart player,” Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said. “He does really good things on the defensive side of the game and it’s great to see him scoring big goals.”

New York’s Chris Kreider scored a short-handed goal 2:04 into the second and Florida’s Gustav Forsling netted the tying goal with 11:39 remaining in the period.

Bennett clinched Florida’s sixth road win of the postseason by scoring into an empty net with 1:52 left. The goals by Lundell and Bennett gave the Panthers a sixth road win this postseason.

“It just seems like as the game goes on, we’re getting better and better,” Bennett said.

Bennett’s goal became the game-winner when Alexis Lafreniere redirected a shot by Mika Zibanejad with 50 seconds left after Shesterkin was pulled for the extra attacker.

Bobrovsky made 25 saves and allowed two goals or fewer for the 12th time in the postseason. He also helped kill off three New York power plays and the Rangers are 1-for-14 on the man advantage in the series.

Shesterkin stopped 34 shots and kept the game at 2-1 with a point-blank glove save on Reinhart with 5:41 left.

“It was a tight game,” coach Peter Laviolette said after the Rangers dropped to 3-5 in their past eight games after opening the postseason with a seven-game winning streak. “Chances were pretty much even. They scored one pretty much off the rush in the third.”

During a tripping penalty called on K’Andre Miller, the Rangers opened the scoring on a miscue by Tkachuk near the blue line in Florida’s offensive zone.

Kreider pried the puck from Tkachuk and fed Zibanejad just over the blue line in the New York offensive zone. Kreider skated by Reinhart, got the return feed, moved to the crease on a partial breakaway and lifted a backhander over Bobrovsky’s left pad for his eighth goal of the playoffs.

The Panthers evened it by catching the Rangers flat-footed deep in the defensive zone. Bennett faked a shot and then passed to Forsling, who got past Lafreniere and Ryan Lindgren. Forsling finished the play by getting near the net and lifting a backhander over Shesterkin.

–Larry Fleisher, Field Level Media

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