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The Florida Panthers Still Don't Scare Me

Elsa. Getty Images.

Let me be clear here. Dropping an ECF series opener is never a good thing. Florida came into MSG and put up a strong road effort. To no one's surprise, they forechecked their dicks off and owned the puck pretty handily. They were physical. They kept the puck away from Bobrovsky who was excellent with a light workload on his way to a 3-0 goose egg. They won, plain and simple. Respect.

By no means though should anyone think "oh shit the Rangers can't hang with these guys". Not by a long shot. If you dissected these teams coming into the series this game is pretty much how you expected it to go in terms of possession, shots and chances. The Blueshirts were never gonna get quantity but quality was gonna be there. That's exactly how it went down. Despite the ice feeling tilted often against New York, they ended with more high-danger chances and a slight edge in expected goals. Playoff tilts are not won on graph paper obviously but my point is, this was far from Panthers domination. If you expected the Rangers to control the puck for 60 minutes I don't know what to tell you. Most of their offense will come from counterpunching and the PP. Just the way it was always gonna match up.

The difference in Game 1? Well for starters if the Blueshirts are considered a "team of destiny" it sure didn't look like it. Not a whole lotta luck with a couple missed breakaways, a couple posts and a couple ill-timed broken sticks. Chances were there. But the biggest issue Wednesday night was Igor Shesterkin. An absolute aberration of a game for the most consistently strong playoff goalie over the last three years. Tkachuk's opening goal in the first was a nothing shot Igor stops 99 of 100 times.

 

Then, shortly after a barrage of offensive chances the Rangers couldn't finish late in the third, Shesty played a puck to the boards where no one but Verhaeghe was within 20 feet that he should've just left for his defender. Verhaeghe tries to throw what was gonna be a harmless pass through the slot that ends up accidentally being tucked five-hole by Alexis Lafreniere instead. A bad, forced decision compounded by some bad luck put the nail in the Blueshirts Game 1 coffin.

 

In the end it was a couple missed opportunities vs a couple bad goals thanks to Shesterkin miscues that simply don't happen. Do the Rangers need to be better? Of course. They gotta be stronger on their zone exits. These weak chips & blind backhand attempts aren't gonna cut it against the heavy Cats forecheck. They do need to establish SOME semblance of sustained offensive pressure. Don't have to own the puck all night but they gotta wear out the Panthers defense a bit in what they hope is a long series. And while Florida played a disciplined game with just two penalties, the Blueshirts PP has to be as opportunistic as it's been all year. They were gifted a chance to tie it late but couldn't get it done.

Not the start I was hoping for, but I'm not scared of these Cats. The Rangers made a season out of winning games just like that. If what we saw Wednesday is all we're gonna get out of Florida then I still have supreme confidence - because I know for a fact Igor and his squad will be a lot better. You'll see exactly what I mean when they even up the series Friday night. Book it.

VIVA LA BLUESHIRTS!!!