Cote: Panthers got what they expected in Game 2. Now NHL East finals gets good as it heads south | Opinion

Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice saw it coming. Foretold it. Had examples of why it might happen. Warned his team to expect it.

None of that was enough to stop it.

Call it human nature or call it hockey nature, but the New York Rangers’ 2-1 Game 2 home win in overtime Friday night to tie the NHL Eastern Conference finals was predictable because so is this:

Desperation brings out the fight in you.

Florida had won Game 1 in the first round vs. Tampa Bay, “and Tampa came back and played its best game of the series,” said Maurice. The Panthers got spanked at home in Game 1 of the second round against Boston, “and we played our best in Game 2.”

“They came out really explosive and that’s what we expected,” said defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

Incredibly, the Panthers had won 11 straight playoff overtime games until Friday, a surreal run. The law of averages were more than overdue.

The desperation the Rangers were facing and fighting as Game 2 began and into OT: Teams down 2-0 all-time in the Stanley Cup playoffs come back to win only 13.7 percent of the time.

If you narrow it down to the East finals, only one of 19 times has a team rallied from 2-0 down to win and advance. That lone was the Detroit Red Wings ... in 1945 ... almost 80 years ago. (The minimum wage was 40 cents an hour.)

“I thought this would be a game that would be real challenge to manage,” admitted Maurice afterward.

So it was that after a listless 3-0 loss Wednesday night that turned Madison Square Garden quiet as a library during exams week, New York -- fans and city -- bounced back big in an encore performance.

It leaves the series even and teetering, waiting to be claimed, entering pivotal Game 3 in a Sunday matinee back in South Florida in the Sunrise rink, where Rangers faithful, either transplants or travelers, can be expected to make themselves heard.

Pressure shifts. The Panthers now must sweep two at home for control in the series. If they settle for a home split to make it 2-2, New York would enjoy the advantage of two of the last three, including Game 7, at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers came out smoking and cashed just 4:12 in on a snap shot by Vincent Trocheck. The Panthers’ Carter Verhaeghe had been freight-trained on a hit to open the net for Trocheck. MSG was rockin’.

It got louder when brief skirmishes broke out across the ice following the goal.

“They were all over us in that first period,” said Verhaeghe.

Down 1-0 Maurice did one of those quickie in-game TV interviews.

“We’re alright,” he said. “Nobody’s been arrested yet. We’re alright.”

(Love that guy.)

NYR might have gone up by two on a power play soon after but Florida rose up with a great kill led by two blocked shots by captain Aleksander Barkov.

Panthers then got an equalizing, momentum-stealing goal off a power play of their own only 1:51 before the first period ended. Call it Verhaeghe’s revenge. His wrist shot straight-on through traffic beat the goalie for his 23rd Panthers postseason goal -- most in franchise history.

It was great hockey but scoreless the rest of the way until 5:59 remained in overtime. That’s when Barclay Goodrow’s shot ignited MSG and gave the Rangers fresh life.

“Don’t like to talk about goals too much,” said goalie Sergei Bobrovsky afterward. “He shoot and scored.”

Not saying the Rangers were already desperate after one listless loss entering Friday, but the talk in New York was whether the team needed to break the ‘In Case Of Emergency’ glass and deploy Matt Rempe.

Who!? Exactly.

Rempe, 21, is a seldom-used rookie, but he is 6-7 (some claim 6-8) and 241 pounds. He usually is sent onto the ice if the Rangers or MSG need waking up with a couple of violent body checks or strategic penalties. He had 71 penalty minutes in just 17 regular season games

Rangers coach Peter Laviolette declined to reveal beforehand if Rempe would be on a line for Game 2. He was.

ESPN analyst Mark Messier had said, “Maybe they should think about putting Rempe in the lineup.” On TNT, more starpower in Wayne Gretzky and Henrik Lundqvist suggested he might make an impact.

The impact was minimal. Rempe is, at this point, mostly a novelty. But he may be a talisman on skates, too, as the Raners are now 24-1 when Rempe plays.

Credit the Rangers in any case. After a desultory effort in Game 1, NYR came back like the Presidents Trophy winner it was for the best regular season record in hockey.

“That’s what happens when you get the two best teams in the conference,” said Verhaeghe. “It’;s going to be a battle.”

The Eastern finals got good Friday night. Turned taut as you might expect.

The battle has only just begun.