After an afternoon of counterpunching, Rangers find way to floor Panthers with OT knockout blow

SUNRISE, Fla. – By now, it has become apparent that the New York Rangers’ path to victory against the Florida Panthers in this Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoff series will be counterpunching.

So Sunday at Amerant Bank Arena they absorbed, withstood, and then landed the knockout of an Alex Wennberg goal 5:35 into overtime on a deflection of a Ryan Lindgren shot.

No, the Rangers were not the better team for the majority of the afternoon, nor arguably for the much of the best-of-seven series’ first three games. But with pair of overtimes goals to end the past two, they are assured of taking home-ice advantage back to Madison Square Garden for Thursday night’s Game 5 after Tuesday’s Game 4 on the Panthers’ home ice.

“There are things I think we can clean up,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette understated.

Understand, the Panthers had the final 24 shots of the third period and held a 95-35 advantage on shot atempts (not just shots on goal) through regulation.

Then came Wennberg.

Then came silence, except from those in the white jerseys on the ice and the blue jerseys in the stands.

“It’s just a chance to reset,” Laviolette said of getting to the overtime, after blowing a 4-2 third-period lead.

Final shots: Panthers 108, Rangers 44.

Final score: Rangers 5, Panthers 4.

“Finding a way to win is huge in the playoffs,” former Panthers forward Vinnie Trocheck said after his two-assist afternoon.

That the Rangers did, despite all the metrics to indicate otherwise.

“Obviously,” Wennberg said, “the third period didn’t end the way we wanted, but then you go in, reset.”

So, no, not the conterpunching of the Matt Rempe variety (although the feisty big man was back in the Rangers’ mix), but rather of battling the Panthers’ barrage of shots, checks and hits with limited by effective counterstrikes.

Even before moving into survival mode, the Rangers found themselves fighting back similar to their rebound from their Game 1 loss.

This time, after the Panthers moved to a 1-0 lead 2:50 into the game on the first of two Sam Reinhart power-power goals, the Rangers countered with a flurry that quieted the sellout crowd. First it was Alexis Lafreniere scoring 7:17 into that opening period, and then, 25 seconds later, Game 2 Rangers overtime hero Barclay Goodrow putting New York up 2-1 – giving the Rangers as many goals early in Game 2 as they scored in the series’ first two games.

The counterpunching continued from there after Reinhart’s second goal tied it with 14:14 to play in the opening period.

In the second period, it again was Lafreniere and Goodrow, each with a dramatic moment.

First it was Lafreniere on a driving toe-drag goal that put the Rangers up 3-2. Then, after dual penalties on Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba put the Panthers on a four-minute power play, Goodrow scored on shorthanded to make it 4-2 with 1:46 left in the second period.

For Lafreniere and Goodrow, it was dual moments both unexpected and energizing.

It was in Game 1 when Lafreniere inadvertently put the puck past Rangers goal Igor Shesterkin, muting the Rangers’ comeback hopes late in what turned into that 3-0 New York loss.

Then came Sunday’s two deft backhand scores that weaponized what had been a largely dormant Rangers offense, once still unable to replicate regular-season success on the power play.

Then there is Goodrow, the two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who closed the regular season with just four goals.

With Sunday’s two goals, Goodrow now has six this postseason, going from his Game 2 overtime winner to his stunning shorthanded goal that had the Rangers taking a 4-2 lead into Sunday’s third period.

Goodrow’s second goal was that Rangers’ fifth shorthanded score this postseason, one shy of the Rangers’ single postseason record, set in 1978-79. The five are the most by a team this postseason.

“We have a no-panic mentality,” Goodrow said.

Said Laviolette, “Barclay seems to be in one right now.”

Ultimately, it was the Rangers’ sixth comeback victory in these first three playoff rounds, matching the franchise record for a playoff year set in 1974.