Rangers hoping to prove how far they have come in Game 6


SUNRISE, Fla. — The Rangers have built this season, brick by brick, on the basis of being better than their recent past

On a foundation laid out by work ethic, a rigid and intentional mentality and a bonded core, the Blueshirts have — time and time again in a Presidents’ Trophy-winning campaign — delivered in a way that has incited genuine belief amongst a starved-and-cynical blue-blooded fan base. 

The time to prove they are actually different is now, as the Rangers prepare to take the ice with this special season hanging in the balance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final Saturday night at Amerant Bank Arena. 

New York Rangers center Vincent Trocheck USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

“Winning the Stanley Cup is not supposed to be easy,” Vincent Trocheck told reporters Friday evening. “And it’s these kinds of moments that really form a team into a team that can become a championship team.” 

Since the playoffs began, the Rangers have been the team they have been all year, in the sense that they have yet to flinch at adversity and always seem to defy the odds to win. 

They’ve been regarded as the underdog in the past two series by every statistical evaluator for a reason. It has not prevented them from playing some of their best hockey at certain points in these playoffs. 

If the Rangers are truly going to be the team they have been all year, however, the parts of their game that make them who they are will have to be a lot better. 

The power play, a motor of their offense for years that looked unstoppable at times this postseason, cannot go cold now.

The penalty kill, which has impressed offensively but not defensively in this series, needs to be as reliable as it’s been for a majority of the season. 

New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin reacts on the ice after Florida Panthers center Anton Lundell scores in the third period of Game 5. JASON SZENES FOR THE NEW YORK POST

Having only scored one goal with the man-advantage in 14 opportunities through five games, the Rangers are not only struggling without the production of their power play, but they’re missing that jolt of confidence that they are usually able to garner from the sustained offensive zone time. 

Decisions need to be made quicker. Pucks need to be funneled into the middle of the ice and on net. The urgency needs to come through ten-fold. 

“Close isn’t cutting it,” said Adam Fox, who has been limited to just three assists in this series and only one on the power play, where he posted just over 45 percent of his points during the regular season. “We got to capitalize on those chances. In big spots, we have some looks, but you don’t win games based on getting looks. You’ve got to capitalize.” 

The Panthers are easily setting up on the power play, the same way the Rangers did against both the Capitals and Hurricanes.

It has to become a lot harder for them to do so, because that is how they’re finding their lanes and in turn, finding the back of the net — five times, to be exact. 

Sam Bennett of the Florida Panthers takes the shot past Adam Fox. Getty Images

Artemi Panarin can’t end a remarkable season this way. 

The Russian wing, who still led the NHL in game-winning goals this postseason as of Friday afternoon with four after a career-best 120-point season, is on the brink of facing another playoff no-show narrative. With three assists through five games, Panarin hasn’t had the puck nearly enough and hasn’t been noticeable nearly enough. 

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Of course, Panarin is not alone in sharing the Rangers stars’ burden, but he is perhaps the one who can make the biggest difference. 

New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Speaking of differences, goalie Igor Shesterkin’s brilliance can’t be wasted another year. 

The last three games have seen the star netminder have to withstand 114 total shots. He has had come up with 154 saves through five games to keep the Rangers competitive on a game-to-game basis. 

There’s reason to believe the Rangers can’t win the Stanley Cup unless Shesterkin is their best player — and he has been, so the rest of the team needs to do their part. 

The Rangers have a chance to show how things are different this season. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Panthers are looking to become the first team since the 2008-09 Penguins to get back to the Stanley Cup Final after falling as the runner up the year prior. 

The Rangers, on the other hand, are trying to be the first Presidents’ Trophy winners since the 2013 Blackhawks to reach the Final. 

There only can be one. 

These Rangers have been called a team of destiny — now we’re going find out. 

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