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Published Time: 27.05.2024 - 11:05:41 Modified Time: 27.05.2024 - 11:05:41

It was Alex Wennberg's turn to play the role of hero. Ny Rangers, rangers vs panthers, Florida Panthers

It was Alex Wennberg's turn to play the role of hero.

The trade-deadline addition was an unlikely candidate after scoring just once in 31 combined regular-season and playoff games with the Rangers entering Sunday, but No. 2 came in the clutchest of moments. He tipped in a shot from Ryan Lindgren 5:35 into OT, stunning a Panthers' team that had dominated play for two-thirds of the afternoon.

"I feel like this is a team," Wennberg said. "It doesn't matter who's the hero, it doesn’t matter who does it. We have everyone fighting for one another. Maybe you haven't put up the same amount of points, but we go as a team. Everything we do together, and we have an end goal. Obviously, it's great feeling and good accomplishment, but I'm just happy the team."

The remarkable result added credence to the narrative that the Rangers, now six wins away from their first Stanley Cup title in exactly 30 years, are some kind of team of destiny.

They'll now take a 2-1 series lead into Game 4, which will be played back here Tuesday at 8 p.m.

"Finding ways to win is huge in the playoffs," said Vincent Trocheck as he knocked on the wood panel behind his locker. "It doesn’t really matter whether it's overtime, regulation, up two late, down two late. We just try to work for wins."

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The Rangers have had some unforgettable wins this season, adding up to a new NHL record for 34 combined comeback victories between the regular season and playoffs, with Chris Kreider's third-period hat trick in last round's closeout win over the Carolina Hurricanes topping the how-the-heck-did-they-do-that list.

But if we're talking the most surprising outcome considering the way a game seemed to be heading, Sunday may take the cake.

Consider that the Panthers out-attempted the Rangers, 108-44, with a high-danger scoring chance differential of 15-7 and expected goal share of 3.83-1.69, according to Natural Stat Trick. And this one might be the kicker: With their best player, Matthew Tkachuk, on the ice at five-on-five, the attempts read 35-4 in Florida's favor.

But the stats don't tell the whole story.

There were long stretches when the Rangers were helplessly pinned in their own zone, with their attempts to advance pucks quickly turned around by swarms of Ice Cat players and sticks.

This was especially true in the third period, which felt like one big New York penalty kill, even though 15:45 of the 20 minutes were played at five-on-five.

"The third was probably our toughest go in the series so far," Blueshirts coach Peter Laviolette said. "We're up 4-2, we’re under siege, they’re able to capitalize. That was by far their best period."

The Rangers spent the waning minutes of regulation holding on for dear life, icing the puck five times in the final 2:06 because they were unable to connect enough passes for a successful breakout.

But somehow, someway − with the help of seven saves from Shesterkin in the final 4:53 of regulation and 42 total blocked shots − they survived and lived to fight on in overtime.

That's where their Finding Ways To Win per 60 would once again prove to be the most important metric.

"In the end, being in OT, one goal wins it," Goodrow said. "I don't think there's much use in being frustrated in whatever may have happened in the game to that point. It's all resetting and just starting with a clean slate and just doing our best to get that first goal."

The first period of Game 3 resembled what we saw in Game 1, with the Panthers' forecheck once again all over the Rangers. That pressure led to lots of offensive-zone time, three New York penalties and several fumbled clear attempts, including a costly one early.

An errant pass from Braden Schneider was intercepted by Florida forward Sam Bennett, which was immediately followed by Schneider accidentally flipping the puck over the boards on his next clear attempt for a delay-of-game penalty. The Panthers cashed in on the ensuing power play, with Sam Reinhart weaving in between K'Andre Miller and Adam Fox before finishing with a backhanded shot right in front of the Rangers' net.

That gave Florida a 1-0 lead 2:50 in, but Alexis Lafrenière's first sign of a big game came less than five minutes later.

Trocheck sprung the rush chance with a sneaky-good pass in between two Panthers, and Lafrenière did the rest. He extended his stick past the reach of Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and beat him with a rising backhander to tie the score at 1-1.

"He oozes confidence out there when he has the puck," Trocheck said of Lafrenière. "Any time he has an opportunity, in my head, I have a pretty good feeling it’s going in the net."

Goodrow continued his recent heater by tipping in a Schneider shot 30 seconds later to put the Rangers on top, 2-1, but the Panthers finished the first period with another flurry.

Reinhart scored his second power-play goal of the period following a roughing penalty on Matt Rempe, taking advantage of a failed Miller clear by banking in a shot off Jacob Trouba's skate to tie the score at 2-2 with 5:14 remaining in the period.

It was yet another example of the Panthers controlling the area around the Rangers' net, helping them rack up 14 shots on goal and seven high-danger scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes alone.

As they have all playoffs, the Blueshirts found a way to respond.

They tightened up their defense by allowing only five shots and zero HDCF in the second period, then got a few more timely contributions from Lafrenière and Goodrow in the final five minutes.

Lafrenière was robbed moments before his second goal by Bobrovsky's right pad, but got another chance on the same shift and delivered.

Yet another rush chance led to yet another backhanded finish, with an even higher degree of difficulty on this one. The 22-year-old forward slipped the puck past defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and got off a shot while falling that put the Rangers ahead, 3-2, with 4:37 to play in the period.

"I don't even know what happened," Trocheck said when asked Lafrenière's sixth playoff goal. "I just saw him dancing."

"He's insane," Lindgren added while shaking his head.

Then came what felt like a devastating blow for the Panthers.

Trouba followed a slashing penalty with a dangerous elbow that left Evan Rodrigues crumbled on the ice and could have easily been called for a major. Instead the two minors handed Florida a four-minute power play and a golden chance to tie the score, but Goodrow had other plans.

After getting burned for multiple goals for the first time since Game 2 of their first-round series against the Capitals, the Rangers' penalty kill got back to its opportunistic ways. Trocheck hustled after a cleared puck and wrapped it around the back of Panthers' net, then found a trailing Goodrow for a one-timer that doubled the New York lead to 4-2 with 1:46 remaining in the period.

"He made a hell of a play," Goodrow said of Trocheck. "He kind of put the pass between two sticks. He worked to get that puck and he made a great play to me."

That gave Goodrow three goals in his last two games, including the overtime winner in Game 2 on Friday, and six goals through 13 playoff games. This comes after only scoring four in 80 regular-season games.

"Barclay seems to be in one right now, and that's a good thing for us," Laviolette said. "We ask different players to do different roles and certain responsibilities, and a lot of his is the heavy lifting on the defensive side of the puck. But he certainly has been a guy who has put up some numbers in his career and big goals and big opportunities in playoffs past. So, the fact that he's doing it now, I don't think it necessarily surprises anybody because he works for what he gets."

It also marked the fifth shorthanded goal for the Rangers in these playoffs, tying for the second most in franchise history. That, in part, helped compensate for slumping New York power play, which went 0-for-2 on Sunday and is now 0-for-8 in the series.

The clutch contributions from Goodrow, Lafrenière, Trocheck and Wennberg have also helped the Blueshirts overcome lackluste starts to this series for some of their go-to offensive players. Kreider and Mika Zibanejad have both failed to record a point through three games, while Fox and Artemi Panarin have each only recorded one assist.

The roller-coaster ride continued in the third period, with the Panthers showing they have some late-game magic up their sleeve, as well.

They came out flying and scored twice within the first 6:58 to knot the score at 4-4. Aleksander Barkov recorded the first goal on a net-front jam, followed 1:54 later by the tying left-circle wrister from Gustav Forsling.

The rest of the period was spent with the Rangers unable to generate much of anything, rather flinging pucks for one icing call after another. They were outshot, 13-4, and out-attempted, 25-6, with the Panthers holding an 8-1 edge in high-danger scoring chances.

The Blueshirts looked particularly gassed in the final minutes, but a handful of clutch saves from Shesterkin kept them alive for OT.

Not much was said in the locker room, according to the players, but their unspoken confidence shined through again to up their overtime record to 4-0 in these playoffs.

"We had a little talk there, but I feel like this team, we have that belief in this group," Wennberg said. "Maybe not the most vocal kind of thing, but we all look at each other. We know what to do, and obviously you see when we get out there, we get the job done."

"There are things that he brings to the table with regard to the way he plays – a checking line, the penalty kill," Laviolette said of losing Vesey. "And, so, everything factors into who comes back into the lineup. But the good thing is up until Jimmy, we were getting healthier and healthier by the day. And so there are decisions to be made when we're talking a replacement."