Panthers’ hunger for Stanley Cup will be Rangers’ big challenge

Of all the characteristics that will make it difficult for the Rangers to control the Panthers in the upcoming Eastern Conference Finals, their drive may be the most difficult one to overcome.

Unless a team is insatiably energized by the prospect of finishing what it started with, it won’t be able to return to the third round for the second straight year after falling three wins short of winning the Stanley Cup last season.

It’s the kind of challenge the Blueshirts have never seen before.

It is an element that cannot be quantified.

The Rangers finished four points behind in the NHL standings and are preparing to face a club widely regarded as the team to beat in the East, as well as having their hands full with a matchup against an opponent that is even closer, making the championship high more presentable than ever before.

The Florida Panthers celebrate a third period goal against the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. NHLI (via Getty Images)

“I think we understand the challenge,” Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette said Monday after practice in Tarrytown. “They overcame the hurdle last year to make it to the finals, one of the last two teams. If you look at this year alone, there is a chance that the top four teams in each division will make it. We shouldn’t be surprised. We know it’s difficult. Last round, I think it was 8 out of 9. So 8 out of 9 people made it. He was among the top nine players who advanced to the previous rounds.

“I think it’s important to know that they’re a good team, that they’re hungry, that they’re playing well, that they have good goaltending, that they have a good professional team, which pretty much everyone does at this point. I don’t think we should be surprised. I don’t think we should consider anything other than the fact that they were a really good team this year.

The Rangers face a tall order against the Florida Panthers. Jason Zenz writes for the New York Post

“I understand what they did last year, and I think the players understand that too. But they followed it up this year, they’re a very good team. [this year], the same way. “

The Rangers have three regular skaters who know what it’s like to compete in the Stanley Cup Finals. Chris Kreider, Berkley Goodrow, and Erik Gustafsson. Laviolette has qualified three times and won a championship with the Hurricanes in 2006. Meanwhile, assistants Michael Peca and Phil Housley know what it’s like to play in a final and lose.

Otherwise, the conference finals are the furthest round that the majority of Rangers players are aware of.

Peter Laviolette hoists the Stanley Cup over his head after the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 in Game 7 of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Final to take the series victory, 4-3. Getty Images

I think getting to the top of the Stanley Cup Final can’t be explained in words, you just feel it. Thinking about what it would be like to get there and lose is a disappointment that never goes away until the scenario changes.

But as Laviolette points out, the Panthers didn’t just reach the finals last season. They then had an even stronger regular season performance this year. Florida was one of just four teams the Rangers lost to twice in regulation, along with the Golden Knights, Capitals and Blue Jackets.

After losing the first two games 4-3 on December 29 and 4-2 on March 4, the Rangers won the most important game of the season, winning 4-3 on penalties on March 23. They beat the Panthers in one of the games.

The Panthers wait on the ice as the Las Vegas Golden Knights celebrate a 9-3 victory in Game 5 of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Finals. Getty Images
Anthers stand in line to shake hands after losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at T-Mobile Arena on June 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Getty Images

That happened two days after they defeated the Bruins, vaulting the Rangers into first place in the Eastern Conference.

There is no tabletop to motivate Rangers now, only Lord Stanley. And we all know that’s been on the Panthers’ minds since watching it carry over to Las Vegas last year.

“It’s unstoppable,” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said last June. “We can’t stop here. If we hit the road, it’s going to sting. It stings now. But we’ll find a way to come back next year and we’ll be even stronger for it.”