Rangers were overwhelmed, outplayed in Game 4 OT loss

SUNRISE, Fla. — This was not the ending Blake Wheeler deserved but it surely was the end result that the Rangers earned. 

You look at the score, 3-2 in overtime for the Puddy Tats with a pair of power-play goals including Sam Reinhart’s dagger at 1:12 with Wheeler in the box. You see that the other one was scored three seconds after the Blueshirts killed one off. It might strike you that the Blueshirts were able to pretty much hold their own against a desperate opponent. 

You would be wrong. 

The Rangers fell apart in Game 4. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Because after the first period that represented the Blueshirts’ best 20 minutes of the series if not the entire tournament, they caved. They were overwhelmed. They yielded a flurry of odd-man rushes against. They defended nearly the entire remaining 41 minutes, out-attempted 59-14 after the first period at five-on-five after holding a 15-12 edge in the first in which they took a 1-0 lead. 

This was not about being mauled physically. This was about being outplayed dramatically. 

“There are going to be those swings, we were obviously happy with our first period, but maintaining it, we know they’re going to come out desperate and we have to raise our level,” Jacob Trouba said. “The first period, we were more on our toes and then we were on our heels really for the rest of the game. 

“We have to match that level going back to New York.” 

It’s a best-of-three in this heavyweight Eastern fight to advance to the Cup final, with Game 5 coming up at the Garden on Thursday. Home ice will mean nothing if Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, specifically but not exclusively, cannot find more. It will mean nothing if the Rangers can’t reverse the special teams equation that is 5-2 for Florida. 

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We know that it is hard out there and that Zibanejad is going against bigger, stronger, more physically inclined opponents. But this was a particularly difficult night for No. 93, who only recorded a 15.15 attempts share when on the ice. 

And it was No. 93 whose pass just inside the line to Wheeler was errant enough for the Panthers to make it a turnover that forced No. 17 to pull down Aleksander Barkov pretty much in alone. Adam Fox had a bad change, compounding the problem. It could have been a penalty shot. The Rangers would have likely preferred that given the level at which Igor Shesterkin displayed throughout. 

Jack Roslovic and the Rangers now come back to New York in a 2-2 series. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Again, though, the Kreider-Zibanejad connection was stifled. Jack Roslovic opened the match on the BFF’s right side but was replaced early in the second by Kaapo Kakko with head coach Peter Laviolette doing some line juggling. 

Moving the furniture around had little impact on the team’s performance. Panarin made a neat low-to-high pass to set up Vincent Trocheck for his eighth goal of the tournament to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead on the power play at 8:51, but that was pretty much it. I know it’s hard for Panarin, too, but No. 10 had only one shot on three attempts. He has eight shots on 22 attempts in the series. This just will not do. 

And again, it’s hard, they’re playing a bigger, stronger team, but this is it. This is no-excuse territory. The Rangers need to step up and meet this challenge. They’ve overcome one obstacle after another but the Puddy Tats are a whole different animal. 

Igor Shesterkin #31 of the New York Rangers defends the net against Carter Verhaeghe #23 of the Florida Panthers during the second period. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Get this. After four games, the Rangers have outscored the Panthers 7-5 at five-on-five. But Florida has a 5-2 edge on special teams. That’s a slice of upside-down cake if I’ve ever seen one. 

One of the Blueshirts’ spiritual leaders, Wheeler was inserted in the lineup for his first game since the Feb. 15 match against Montreal in which he suffered a gruesome right leg injury. His rehab effort has been documented as inspirational and he played 9:18, primarily on a unit with Barclay Goodrow and Matt Rempe, who had his most impactful game of the playoffs and was justifiably rewarded by Laviolette with four shifts in the third period. 

“It was a long road back and I thought he came in there and [his line] controlled the puck and had it in the offensive zone,” Laviolette said. “For his first game back in a while I thought he was good.” 

Matt Rempe was back in the lineup for the Rangers. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Rangers are in some disarray here. The Zibanejad line has been stifled. Panarin has not been productive. Special teams have become an issue. 

They are “The Shesterkin Show” at the moment. 

That’s not enough to get two more victories, let alone six.

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