Reinhart scores in OT, Panthers beat Rangers to even up East Final

29 May 2024
Florida Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Panthers couldn't have asked for a better scenario. Sam Reinhart, alone in the slot, on the power play.

Game over. Series tied.

Reinhart — the NHL's power-play goal leader this year — came through with his 65th and most important goal of the season 1:12 into overtime, and the Panthers topped the New York Rangers 3-2 on Tuesday night, evening the Eastern Conference final at two games apiece.

“If he's open, obviously, we want to look for him,” said Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov, who set Reinhart up for the game-winner.

With good reason. Reinhart has 31 goals with the man advantage this year, connecting on 32 per cent of his power-play shots.

“I saw him wide open there, and I was pretty confident he was putting that one in,” Florida forward Carter Verhaeghe said. "He has an awesome shot and obviously he made no mistake on that one, and it was awesome.”

It was the third straight OT game in the series, and the first one that the Panthers scored in the extra session. And on a night when it took a bounce off a skate and then a baseball swing to give Florida its first two goals of Game 4, the finish was picture-perfect for Florida.

Verhaeghe and Sam Bennett also scored for Florida, which got 21 saves — and an assist — from Sergei Bobrovsky.

Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafrenière scored for the Rangers, and Igor Shesterkin stopped 37 shots.

Game 5 is Thursday in New York, where the teams split the opening two matchups in this series. Game 6 will be Saturday in Sunrise, and the Prince of Wales Trophy — awarded to the East champs — will be in attendance that night.

“Overall, not the result we wanted,” Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad said. "It’s the best out of three. We go home and try to take care of Game 5.”

Blake Wheeler, playing his first game for the Rangers since mid-February, was called for hooking Barkov 59 seconds into the extra session. And it didn't take long for the Panthers to cash in, with Barkov setting up Reinhart in front.

Rangers defenceman Adam Fox defended Wheeler, who basically had no chance with Barkov skating in alone on Shesterkin.

“I don’t think it was a bad penalty to take. They have a good power play and they capitalized,” Fox said.

Bennett got Florida on the board midway through the second period, on a second effort. His first shot got past Shesterkin, but not into the net — and Bennett, who followed the shot, managed to get to the puck before anyone else. He knocked it off the back of the goalie's skate and barely across the goal line.

And 3 1/2 minutes later, Florida had the lead on a pinball goal by Verhaeghe.

Matthew Tkachuk centred the puck from the right corner, and it deflected off Rangers defenceman Ryan Lindgren's stick. Airborne, it bounced off Shesterkin, then off Lindgren's upper body — and Verhaeghe, with more of a baseball swing than anything else, batted it out of the air for a 2-1 Florida edge.

"I don’t even know what it hit," Verhaeghe said.

Including playoffs, over the last two seasons, Florida entered Tuesday with an NHL-best record of 81-2-6 in games where it led after 40 minutes.

Lafrenière didn't care. A neat spin move from Fox got him the puck on the left side of the crease and he tapped it home with 16:32 left for his third goal in the last two games.

The rest of regulation was wild. Back and forth, play more often resembling a 3-on-3 regular season overtime than anything else, going end to end — Bobrovsky making some point-blank stops, Shesterkin once again getting peppered just as he was late in Game 3 to no Florida avail.

And for the third straight game, to OT they went.

“That’s a pretty desperate team,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. “We have to find an ability to raise to that level.”

Trocheck opened the scoring with a power-play tally, on a play where he won a faceoff, moved into the high slot, waited for a centring pass from Artemi Panarin and ripped a perfect shot — an inch or two past the right side of Bobrovsky's head, kissing it off the bottom of the crossbar and into the goal.

So, the crossbar giveth on that Rangers power play. It taketh away on the next one, when the game of inches went the Panthers' way.

New York had Florida reeling later in the first period, when Brandon Montour was in the box for cross-checking. Zibanejad was alone on the left side of the crease and shot toward a ton of open net, but the puck hit Bobrovsky's shoulder, ricocheted up to the crossbar — and this time, bounced back into the crease, just off the goal line as the Panthers remained down only 1-0.

“We have a good feeling,” Bobrovsky said. “We’ve got good belief, good trust in each other here. We’ve got great atmosphere. And, yeah, it’s a fun challenge.”


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