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After tough series vs. Bruins, Panthers ready for Rangers in conference finals

FORT LAUDERDALE — The six-game, second-round series between the Panthers and Bruins had its share of clutch goals and great moments. But one of the biggest highlights was when Matthew Tkachuk and David Pastrnak dropped gloves and squared off near center ice.

The Game 2 fight highlighted a physical series that saw Boston captain Brad Marchand miss two games following a Sam Bennett hit. The Bruins have all offseason to nurse their wounds. Following their Game 6 win on Friday night, the Panthers have four days of rest and practice before facing off with the rival New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

“It does (help),” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Of course, rest is a big thing here, recovery and stuff. We have really nice facilities here for that, and just cant wait to get going again.”

After getting out to a 3-1 series lead, Florida dropped Game 5 and was less than two minutes from heading to overtime in Game 6 before Gustav Forsling’s game-winner clinched the series. The last three games of the series were decided by one goal each.

“I think just the way we’re playing, our style of game, our intensity and how hard we’re playing that was the key for us,” said Barkov, who was named the Selke Award winner on Saturday. “We just never stopped. We kept pushing, kept doing our thing, and I think that helped us to win.”

The schedule has worked to Florida’s benefit. There were two days off between Games 5 and six, which Panthers coach Paul Maurice said helped the team get into a regular routine after their series-clinching victory.

“Really good (to have those days) because we got two days in front of game 6, which helped us, too,” Maurice said. “So we’ve been able to — because it does go to Game 6, the window on the other side’s not too long. So we’ve actually been able to run the same two-day structure on and off the ice going in, so it’s routine for us now.

But the Panthers were eager at Monday’s practice, ready to fly to New York to start their second straight Eastern Conference finals. Maurice said the coaches basically needed to hold the players back so they did not overexert themselves.

“Real big jump there today,” Maurice said. “Almost you have to be careful because they’ll run today. You could go an hour hard here today, and they would have gone all out. So hold them back a little bit. They were good today.”

The Rangers have a similar layoff, having clinched their series against Carolina on Thursday. Both teams will surely be ready to face off on Wednesday night.

“I don’t think we need too much time off in the playoffs,” defenseman Niko Mikkola said. “These couple of days (are) perfect. Get a little rest and get ready for Wednesday.”