Panthers rally from two-goal deficit but fall in overtime to go down 2-1 in series to Rangers

The Florida Panthers have shown a remarkable ability to bounce back quickly from a loss throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs.

They couldn’t do it on Sunday, falling 5-4 to the New York Rangers in overtime Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final at Amerant Bank Arena — marking the first time the Panthers have dropped consecutive games this postseason.

Alex Wennberg scored the game-wining goal 5:35 into overtime. Alexis Lafreniere and Barclay Goodrow each scored twice in regulation for the Rangers, who now lead the best-of-7 series 2-1. Sam Reinhart scored twice on the power play in the first period for Florida, and Aleksander Barkov and Gustav Forsling scored twice early in the third to get the game to overtime.

“Anytime you lose a close one like that,” Reinhart said, “it’s obviously frustrating.”

It was an aberration from how the Panthers have looked in the first three games they’ve played this postseason following a loss.

After their Game 4 loss in the first round to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Panthers responded with a resounding 6-1 win in Game 5 to clinch the series. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 31 of 32 shots he faced that day, and both Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe had multiple goals.

After their Game 1 loss to the Boston Bruins to begin the second round, the Panthers trounced the Bruins 6-1 win in Game 2. Barkov again scored twice that day and Florida’s defense held Boston to just 15 shots on goal.

And after their Game 5 loss to Boston, Florida clinched the series with a 2-1 win on the road in Game 6. Anton Lundell and Gustav Forsling scored Florida’s goals that day, and Boston managed just 23 shots on goal.

“After a loss, we come to the rink with a little more focus, a little more energy,” Panthers forward Nick Cousins said. “It’s a quick turnaround. It’s an early afternoon start. After a loss, you just want to get back it.”

Added forward Evan Rodrigues: “It’s learning from it and being better next game. We’ve had a good mindset all year on fixing the things that we might not have done to the best our ability and coming out and playing hard next game.”

That wasn’t the case on Sunday.

After Florida took a 1-0 lead on Reinhart’s first power-play goal of the game, a nifty backhanded shot that beat Igor Shesterkin up high 2:50 into regulation, New York scored twice in a 25-second span to take an early lead. First, it was Lafreniere beating Sergei Bobrovsky on a breakaway. Goodrow followed shortly afterward by deflecting in a long shot from Braden Schneider.

Reinahrt tied the game at 2-2 with 5:14 left in the opening frame with his second backhanded goal on the power play — making him just the third player in Panthers history to record multiple power-play goals in a playoff game — before the Rangers scored twice in the second period to take a commanding lead into the final frame.

And again, it was Lafreniere and Goodrow doing the damage. Lafreniere cut through the Panthers’ defense, capped by a smooth toe drag to get past Dmitry Kulikov, before depositing a backhand past Bobrovsky with 4:37 left in the period. Less than three minutes later, Goodrow scored shorthanded to give New York the 4-2 lead.

But the Panthers’ weren’t deterred at that point. They still had 20 minutes left.

“We’re not done. We’re not frustrated,” Barkov said. “We knew we needed to play a lot better than we were out there. We responded well.”

Florida then made its push in the third after coach Paul Maurice made changes to his top three forward lines — putting Verhaeghe with Barkov and Reinhart, moving Vladimir Tarasenko to a line with Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen, and having Sam Bennett centered Evan Rodrigues and Matthew Tkachuk.

“Just a different look with certain players,” Maurice said. “I thought we’d find the guys that are going partway through the game. Sometimes, you’ve got to throw them together. We’ve flipped Verhaeghe with Barkov over the past two years. That kind of continues. We were just looking for a little more speed on that line. We had some guys that were going; just wanted to give them a better chance to get them open when we could.”

Barkov got Florida within a goal 5:04 into the final frame with a deflected shot from just in front of the net. Forsling then tied the game 1:54 later with a snap shot from the left side of the net on assists from Tkachuk and Rodrigues before the game went to overtime.

The Panthers had their share of chances to put the game away in the third. According to the advanced hockey statistics website Natural Stat Trick, Florida had 40 shot attempts in the third period, including 21 scoring chances and eight high-danger chances.

But they only got the two goals against Shesterkin in that frame.

And then Wennberg sealed it with his overtime goal.

“Obviously not happy with the end result,” Barkov said, “but I think there are some good things in the game that we can take to the next game. All we’ve got to do is recover now and move on.”

Now, the Panthers turn their attention to Game 4, set for an 8 p.m. start Tuesday, as they try to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole in the series. Florida only had two stretches in the regular season during which they lost three or more games.

“It’s all about recovering — mentally, physically, everything at this time of year,” Reinhart said. “That’s what the rest of this night’s for. Move on. Refocus tomorrow and see if we can do better.”