NHL: Panthers visit Rangers in battle for upper hand in Game 5

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While the New York Rangers played arguably their best first period of the series in Game 4 and settled for one goal, the Florida Panthers controlled the action over the final two periods and relied on their power play to deliver early in overtime.

As a result of those scenarios, the Eastern Conference final is tied at two games and is now a best-of-three starting Thursday night when the Rangers host the Panthers in Game 5.

The winner of Thursday’s game will get their first chance to clinch the series Saturday in Sunrise, Fla.

Florida earned a 3-2 win Tuesday when Sam Reinhart scored his third power-play goal of the series 72 seconds into the extra period. Reinhart’s game-winner occurred following about 10 passes through the offensive zone after captain Aleksander Barkov drew a hooking penalty on Blake Wheeler 59 seconds into OT.

Sam Bennett tied the score at 1 in the second period after the Panthers gave up 13 shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes, during which coach Paul Maurice said they were playing “tight.” Carter Verhaeghe, who scored the tying goal in Game 2, also tallied on the power play 3:31 after Bennett scored.

“We wanted it so bad,” Bennett said. “I think we were gripping our sticks a little tight in the first. Then we started to loosen up and just relax, started making more plays, got back to our game that we’ve had success with all year. It was good composure … and we just calmed down in the second and third there.”

The Panthers registered four power-play goals in the previous two games and are 5-for-12 on the man advantage since going 0-for-3 in their 3-0 win in last week’s series opener.

“The power play got it done,” Verhaeghe said. “Obviously, a huge couple goals, and it’s nice to see it clicking a little bit here.”

Reinhart scored three power-play goals in the past two games, getting two in the first period in Game 3 when the Panthers statistically dominated but could not complete a comeback in the third period and took a 5-4 loss on Alex Wennberg’s tip-in 5:35 into overtime.

The Rangers were outshot 40-23 Tuesday and are getting outshot 131-100 in the series. New York earned its two wins thanks to overtime goals by Barclay Goodrow and Wennberg along with stellar goaltending by Igor Shesterkin.

“We’re spending a little bit too much time playing defense, especially in the second period,” New York coach Peter Laviolette said. “That happened last game, as well, and so we’re not able to move and generate the way that we want to out there.

“They come at you hard. They dump a lot of pucks. They forecheck hard, so you’re not spending time in the right zone.”

Besides Reinhart’s tally from the slot, Shesterkin was beaten by Verhaeghe on a fluky bounce and Bennett jamming in his own rebound from the side of the net.

“He’s arguably one of the best goalies in the world,” Reinhart said. “He’s going to make his saves. I think when the game is tight and the way we play, we’re going to generate chances.”

Alexis Lafreniere scored the tying goal early in the third period Tuesday after netting two in Game 3, but the Rangers mustered two shots on goal the rest of the way. Vincent Trocheck also scored but Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider remain scoreless for the series.

“I think we played a pretty good first period, set ourselves up,” said Zibanejad, who took six shots on goal and has not scored since Game 1 of the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes.

“The second period was not what we wanted. Good job in the third tying the game up and giving ourselves a chance. Overall not the result we wanted. It’s the best out of three. We go home and try to take care of Game 5.”

–Field Level Media

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