Rangers’ ‘emotional advantage’ pays off in Game 2 overtime winner to even series with Panthers

As Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice views it, the team that loses the first game of a playoff series has an advantage when it comes to Game 2. There’s the desire to quickly even the playing field and not fall behind by two games right out of the gate in a best-of-7 series.

So after his Panthers shut out the Rangers to open the Eastern Conference final, Maurice had an understanding of what to expect from the Rangers — and what he needed from his team heading into Game 2.

“The mentality for us is that maybe don’t take that deep breath,” Maurice said. “It’s one game, right? It was 1-0 with three minutes left to go [in Game 1]. This is going to be a tight and probably a long series. It’s going to be a grinder. It’s going to be fast at times. It’s to be heavy on the walls at times. They have the emotional advantage coming into [Game 2] and we’ve got to find a different way to get ours.”

Just as Maurice predicted, the Rangers came out with an intense, emphatic push to start the game.

And after the Panthers rallied from an early deficit, the Rangers broke the tie for a 2-1 win on Friday at Madison Square Garden, with Barclay Goodrow scoring the game-winning goal with 5:59 left in overtime, to even the best-of-7 series at 1-1. The loss snaps Florida’s run of 11 consecutive playoff overtime wins going back to the 2021 postseason.

Before diving into the game, a quick breakdown of that “emotional advantage” thought from Maurice.

He can speak from recent experience, given his team was on both sides of that situation in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. After Florida won the series opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he felt Tampa Bay had its best outing of the first-round series in Game 2 — a game the Panthers ultimately won in overtime en route winning the series in five games. And then after the Panthers dropped Game 1 against the Boston Bruins in the second round, Florida responded with a resounding effort in Game 2 before ultimately winning the series in six games.

“Every game, we learn something about ourselves and about them,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “I don’t know if going into the game and expecting something is the right thing. You just go into the game and do your thing. We know what we need to do.”

That meant finding a way to play their game — a forecheck, grinding, puck possession-heavy game — and fend off the Rangers’ early pressure.

The Rangers dominated the opening eight-plus minutes, barely giving the Panthers any time or space to make plays and making it known that physical hits would come any time a player was within range. New York opened scoring on a Vincent Trocheck tap-in on an open net with Sergei Bobrovsky out of position 4:12 into regulation.

And things got chippy, with nearly everyone on the ice getting involved in a scrum and three players — Verhaeghe and Tkachuk for Florida, Alexis Lafreniere — going to the penalty box.

Florida killed off the penalty — the first of four perfect penalty kill efforts on the night — and starting to find its game in the back half of the opening frame. Verhaeghe tied the game 18:09 into the first on the power play after getting a feed to the slot from Sam Bennett.

A scoreless second and third periods — but not ones without action with a combined 73 shot attempts despite just 32 shots on goal — followed before Goodrow’s game-winner in overtime.

Bobrovsky stopped 29 of 31 shots. Shesterkin stopped 25 of 26.

And now the series makes its way to South Florida, with the Panthers hosting Game 3 at 3 p.m. Sunday and Game 4 at 8 p.m. Tuesday from Sunrise’s Amerant Bank Arena.