What to watch for in Game 3 of Rangers vs. Panthers

The Eastern Conference Finals shifts to Florida on Sunday for Game 3 between the Rangers and the Panthers and we probably should expect more of the same kind of hockey that marked the first two – evenly-matched, hard-hitting, goals scarce.

“That’s what happens when you get the two best teams in the conference,” Florida forward Carter Verhaeghe told reporters Friday after Game 2 at Madison Square Garden. “They’re playing hard defense, we’re playing hard defense and it’s tough to get chances.

The Panthers wrested home-ice advantage away from the Rangers by earning a split of the first two games, but the Blueshirts can claim a smidge more momentum entering Sunday’s 3 p.m. match. That’s because of their overtime win in Game 2.

The Rangers are an excellent road team – they were 25-12-4 in hostile arenas during the regular season and are 4-1 so far in the playoffs. Florida won the only meeting between the teams at Amerant Bank Arena during the regular season.

Here are five things to watch in Game 3, where any edge could tilt the series:

Power Rangers

A hallmark of the Blueshirts’ offense this season was their deadly power play, which finished the regular season ranked third in the NHL. It’s been a reliable source of goals in the playoffs, too, except in this series. The Rangers are 0-for-6 so far against Florida’s penalty kill, which is third in the playoffs with an 88.1 percent success rate, just behind the Rangers.

Overall in the playoffs, the Rangers are 11-for-41 with a man advantage and that 26.8 percent rate places them fourth among playoff teams and is slightly better than their regular-season percentage. But the Rangers, who are potentially vulnerable at 5-on-5, must generate tallies on the power play against the rugged Panthers, who excel at shrinking open ice.

New York Rangers center Matt Rempe (73) skates up ice as Florida Panthers defenseman Niko Mikkola (77) defends during the second period in game two of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden.

(Big) man advantage?

Will we see Matt Rempe again in Game 3? It seems likely, especially since he delivered physicality and energy in 10:06 of ice time in Game 2 and dealt out more hits (nine) than any other skater. His presence got buzz going in the Garden crowd, and he’d likely get plenty of attention from Florida fans, too. The 6-7, 241-pound Rempe got five shifts in the third period and one in overtime and might loom larger Sunday depending on Jimmy Vesey’s status – Vesey left the game in the second period of Game 2 after taking a big hit from Ryan Lomberg and did not return.

Rempe did not take any penalties in Game 2, which probably helped him continue to get on the ice. He went to the penalty box four times in his first five playoff games as officials seemed to be scrutinizing his punishing game. But he has not been whistled in each of his last three. Friday, Rempe played instead of Kaapo Kakko, a healthy scratch for the first time in these playoffs. That’s something to watch, too, considering it raises questions about Kakko’s role going forward.

Goody, Goody

The Rangers obviously got a huge goal from Barclay Goodrow, who potted the OT winner in Game 2, another example of a non-star making an outsized contribution to their playoff run. Goodrow is a grinding forward who gets much appreciation in the room for his defense, versatility and his Stanley Cup chops – he won two of them with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s got four goals in the playoffs, including two game-winners, after scoring only four all season. While stars fuel the Blueshirts and should mostly dictate how they fare in this series, the less-glamorous skaters have had an impact, too. Will they get another jolt from that group in Game 3?

New York Rangers defenseman Adam Fox (23) shoots the puck as Florida Panthers center Carter Verhaeghe (23) defends during the second period in game two of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden.

Adam’s apples

Adam Fox made the pretty pass that led to Vincent Trocheck’s doorstep goal in Game 2, giving Fox 31 career assists in the playoffs. He’s tied for fourth-most in Ranger playoff history by a defenseman with Ryan McDonagh, Brad Park and Ron Greschner (32 apiece) up next on the list. Brian Leetch (61), of course, is the club leader. But Fox’s assist ended a five-game drought with no points from a skater who is the Rangers’ best threat for offense from the blue line. He had five streaks of two straight games in which he didn’t have a point in the regular season, but he never went more than two in a row without making the scoresheet. Fox does not have a goal in these playoffs – the Rangers have only two goals from defensemen in the playoffs (shorties by K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba) after finishing tied for seventh in the NHL with 44 goals from D-men.

Numbers racket

Trocheck had his seventh multi-point game of the playoffs in Game 2, getting that goal and adding an assist on the winner and he’s now tied with Mika Zibanejad (seven in 2022) for the second-most multi-point games in a single Ranger postseason. Leetch holds that mark, too – he had nine multi-point games in 1994. Might be tough for Trocheck to challenge that record with how tight the games have been, but maybe the games get a little more wide open. Florida coach Paul Maurice allowed for that possibility after Game 2, noting in his press conference, “There is better skill on both teams than the plays that are being completed. I think it’s a bit of a challenge out there right now.”