Rangers prove to be a moving target as Panthers seek to bounce back; Trouba fined $5K for elbow

SUNRISE — The notion of the New York Rangers standing as a moving target for the Florida Panthers in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoff series certainly has its merits.

In Sunday’s 5-4 overtime victory, the visiting Rangers blocked 37 shots, which practically stood as a requirement on an afternoon the Panthers held a 108-44 advantage on total shots (not just those on goal).

But in moving to a 2-1 series lead, New York has become a moving target in another facet, as well.

Entering the series, the prevailing thought was contain Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox and Artemi Panarin and you contain Peter Laviolette’s team.

Instead, it has been Barclay Goodrow. Alexis Lafrenière and, perhaps most significantly, and most surprisingly, Alex Wennberg who have allowed the Rangers to reclaim home-ice advantage ahead of Tuesday’s 8 p.m. Game 4 at Amerant Bank Arena.

From the outset, the Panthers’ four-line depth was seen as an advantage for Paul Maurice’s team, amid Rangers questions of availability of Filip Chytil, Jimmy Vesey, Blake Wheeler and suitability of Matt Rempe (4:02 of action in Game 3).

Instead, as Maurice reconfigured his lines on Sunday in a bid to turn the Panthers’ onslaught of shots into goals, the Rangers found their legs, even with Wheeler yet to return from a February lower-body injury and with Vesey week-to-week with an upper-body injury.

“This is a team. It doesn’t matter who’s the hero,” said Wennberg, who deflected in a Ryan Lindgren point shot 5:35 into Sunday’s overtime, just the third goal in 31 appearances for the defensive-minded third-line center who was acquired at the trade deadline in March from the Seattle Kraken for multiple draft picks. “It doesn’t matter who does it, we have everyone fighting for one another.

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“This team, we have that belief in this group. Maybe not the most vocal kind of thing, but we all look at each other. We know what to do, and obviously you see when we get out there, we get the job done.”

Then there is Goodrow, the former two-time Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning whose overtime goal won Game 2 at Madison Square Garden to even the series at 1-1, has six playoff goals this postseason after scoring four the entirety of the regular season.

“Barclay seems to be in one right now, and that’s a good thing for us,” Laviolette said. “We ask different players to do different roles and certain responsibilities, and a lot of his is the heavy lifting on the defensive side of the puck.

“But he certainly has been a guy who has put up some numbers in his career and big goals and big opportunities in playoffs past. So, the fact that he’s doing it now, I don’t think it necessarily surprises anybody because he works for what he gets.”

In that regard, perhaps unsurprising has been the continued breakout of Lafrenière, the top pick of the 2020 entry draft who has graduated from what had been known as the Rangers’ Kids Line to a leading role that included a pair of impressive backhand goals Sunday off the rush.

Lafrenière on Sunday became the third player in Rangers history with 20 career playoff points at age 22 or younger, joining Alex Kovalev and Don Maloney.

“He oozes confidence out there when he has the puck,” former Panther Vincent Trocheck said of his current Rangers linemate. “Any time he has an opportunity, in my head, I have a pretty good feeling it’s going in the net.”

Because of Wennberg, Goodrow and Lafrenière, it has the Rangers playing from the lead in a series where Kreider and Zibanejad have failed to record a point through the series’ first three games, and with Fox and Panarin limited to one assist apiece.

“Finding ways to win,” Trocheck said, “is huge in the playoffs.”

Trouba fined $5,000

Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba on Monday was fined $5,000 — the maximum allowable under the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement — for elbowing Panthers forward Evan Rodrigues in the second period of Sunday’s game.

Trouba was assessed an elbowing penalty during the game for the infraction, part of the double-minor he received with 2:28 left in the period. The Rangers then scored while shorthanded, with the Panthers unable to cash in on either Trouba penalty.

The fine goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Of the fine, Maurice quipped at the Panther’s Monday practice. “Poor lad. Poor Jake. Will he be able to eat?”

Of the hit, Trouba said in the wake of his fine, “It all happened pretty fast. It’s not something you’re thinking about a thousand times over and over again. I think it just happens fast. It’s hockey.”