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    Tuesday, July 23, 2024

    Down 2-1, Panthers still have plenty of hope in East final against Rangers

    Florida Panthers center Sam Bennett (9) slams New York Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren (55) into the boards in the third period of Game 3 during the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

    Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe pulled his vehicle out of the players' parking lot after leaving the Florida Panthers' practice facility on Monday afternoon, only to notice about 50 fans standing on the side of the road clamoring for autographs.

    So, he stopped and signed for a while. Brandon Montour did the same. More players, like captain Aleksander Barkov, followed suit a few minutes later. The fans — some kids, some adults, some carrying signs, some wearing jerseys — were, as would be expected, thrilled.

    Down 2-1 in the Eastern Conference final to the New York Rangers, the Panthers — seeking a second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final — still believe going into Game 4 on their home ice Tuesday night. Evidently, so do their fans.

    “You wake up, the sun is shining, everything's good here,” Panthers forward Sam Bennett said. “It's not too difficult.”

    If only beating the Rangers were so easy.

    New York grabbed home-ice back in the series with a 5-4 overtime win on Sunday, a game where the Panthers fired off more than 100 shot attempts — more than doubling what the Rangers tried during the contest. Florida created chance after chance after chance in the third period, especially late.

    And it didn't matter; the Rangers' Igor Shesterkin came up with big stops every time he needed to, Alex Wennberg got a deflection past the Panthers' Sergei Bobrovsky to win the game, and the team with the best record in the regular season moved two wins away from claiming the East.

    “The third was probably our toughest go in the series so far,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said of the Florida onslaught in the third period of Game 3, when the Panthers erased a 4-2 deficit but never reclaimed the lead.

    Panthers coach Paul Maurice said he believes his team left work on Monday with a firm understanding of what needs to be adjusted for Game 4.

    “At no point will our game plan be, ‘Hey, let’s shoot fewer pucks for better opportunities,’” Maurice said. “What we're trying to create is certainly goals, but we scored three in Game 1 and four in Game 3. It's not goals. We have to defend. ... We have a pretty good idea of where we can be marginally better with the puck — I say marginally because we can make slight improvements with it — but we’re pretty good with the puck.”

    Trouba fined

    Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba was fined $5,000 on Monday by the league for elbowing Florida forward Evan Rodrigues in the head and neck area on Sunday. The total was the maximum allowed under league rules.

    Trouba was assessed a minor penalty for elbowing. The Panthers felt it was worthy of a 5-minute major.

    “Take the hat, pass it around,” Maurice said when told of the fine.

    Four wasn’t enough

    Teams that score four goals on the Rangers in the playoffs win 91% of the time.

    The odds were bucked in Game 3.

    Sunday marked the 17th time — in 175 such games — that an opponent scored four or more goals against the Rangers and didn’t win. New York is now 16-158-1 in such games, and Sunday’s win snapped a 42-game playoff losing streak for the Rangers in that scenario going back to Game 2 of the 1997 East final against Philadelphia.

    The Rangers won that game 5-4, just as they did Sunday. Perhaps a good omen for the Panthers: the Flyers won the next three games of that series and went to the Stanley Cup Final.

    Third-period Cats

    Florida led the NHL in third-period goal differential during the regular season, outscoring opponents 99-63 in the final 20 minutes of regulation.

    Form is holding in the playoffs.

    The Panthers outscored the Rangers 2-0 in the third of Game 3 and are now plus-13 in that period in the playoffs. Florida has 21 third-period goals in this playoff run, allowing only eight.

    The Rangers haven’t been great in the third, outscored 13-11 in that period in the playoffs. But New York has been perfect in overtimes in the postseason; the Game 3 win improved the Rangers’ OT record this spring to 4-0.

    Florida Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) celebrates his goal with center Sam Bennett (9) in the third period of Game 3 during the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs against the New York Rangers, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
    Florida Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) scores against New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) in the third period of Game 3 during the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
    New York Rangers center Alex Wennberg (91) celebrates with center Vincent Trocheck (16) and defenseman Jacob Trouba (8) after Wennberg deflected the puck into the net to the beat the Florida Panthers 5-4, in an overtime period of Game 3 during the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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