Grades, takeaways from Game 5, early look at Game 6

The Florida Panthers and New York Rangers entered Game 5 Thursday night with their Eastern Conference finals series tied at two games apiece.

After the visiting Panthers edged the Rangers 3-2, they’ll take that same lead back home for Saturday night’s potential series-clinching game (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN+).

Here’s what stood out in Florida’s victory, along with key players to watch in Game 6, and the biggest lingering question.


Panthers grade: B+

The Panthers controlled possession. They made it difficult for the Rangers to find the needed time to get settled in the offensive zone over the final two periods.

Above all, they found ways to reach the net front while consistently ensuring the Rangers struggled in that department, beyond the late goal Alexis Lafreniere scored to cut it to a one-goal margin.

If not for Igor Shesterkin, it’s possible the Panthers could have won by a larger margin and head into a Game 6 that could see them return to a consecutive Stanley Cup final for the first time in their team’s history.

Exercising patience has been crucial for the Panthers during these playoffs. Look no further than the events that led to an empty-net goal. They set up in front of Sergei Bobrovsky’s net before forechecking and pressuring the Rangers into a mistake, en route to grabbing a two-goal lead. If they replicate that formula consistently in Game 6, the Panthers will become the first team to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.


Rangers grade: B-

Watching Lafreniere get near the net and score did more than cut the lead to 3-2 with less than a minute left. It was one of the few times the Rangers could really get set in the offensive zone while having a player in a position to grab a goal in a part of the ice the Panthers largely worked to take away. Is that repeatable in future games?

Finding openings was a challenge for the Rangers once the second period started. They went from 11 shots in the first period to a total of 11 more in the next 32 minutes of game time. They finished with 27, and quite a few of them were from distance.

Even with those 11 first-period shots, Natural Stat Trick’s metrics show the Rangers had a 46% shot-share in 5-on-5 play. An inability to consistently gain possession was further compounded by the fact that the Panthers broke through for 18 high-danger chances, while allowing only seven high-danger chances for the Rangers. One example of that was the Sam Reinhart shot at the doorstep that Shesterkin stopped with 5:49 left.

Another item that didn’t help was the Rangers, who have the second-best power-play unit of the four remaining teams, drew just one penalty; however, they get bonus points for a short-handed goal from Chris Kreider, his first tally of the series.

Players to watch in Game 6


Gustav Forsling. This goes beyond the fact he scored the game-tying goal. What Forsling did in Game 5 is an extension of what he’s done this season and how he’s emerged as one of the Panthers’ most important players.

So much of the Panthers’ success has been their ability to take away time and space from opponents, with the idea they can quickly get in the offensive zone. Forsling has allowed the Panthers to find success in both zones while averaging more than 23 minutes per game during the Panthers’ postseason run. He’ll be critical again as they look to put the Rangers away Saturday.


Artemi Panarin. It gets complicated as one chooses how to measure Panarin’s production. He’s arguably been the Rangers’ strongest facilitator in the postseason while still being a threat to score goals of his own. The four shots he had on net in Game 5 are the most he’s had since the second round in Game 6 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Panarin’s ability to create for others has been beyond vital for the Rangers. But if he can find a way to score a goal in Game 6, it would play a major role in the Rangers forcing a Game 7. If not, there are obviously other ways the Rangers could win and get to a Game 7. But as Game 5 showed, getting as many offensive contributions as possible from star players will only make things easier.

Big question for Game 6: Can the Rangers find some sort of success with the power play?

Success is something of a relative term when it comes to the Rangers’ power play at the moment: Is success breaking through to score a goal? Or would the first piece in finding success simply be finding a way to get on the power play at all?

Going into Game 5, the Rangers have had one of the NHL’s best extra-skater advantages during the playoffs as a whole but have struggled since reaching the conference final round. They’ve converted only 9.1% of their power-play chances. Having such a low success rate is made more of an issue by the fact they had just one power play in Game 5; by contrast, they saw one of their three chances converted in Game 4. So the task ahead is both drawing more penalties and making the Panthers pay when they do.

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