Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin.

Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

SUNRISE, Fla. — The shots kept coming for the Rangers’ high-scoring wing, a copious amount through the long playoff run. But the goals dried up despite the chances and the Blueshirts ultimately fell short of winning their first Stanley Cup since 1994.

Artemi Panarin in 2024? No, though that’s the subject here.

This was Rick Nash 10 years earlier. We’ll get back to big No. 61 in a bit.

Suffice to say defenses get stingier and stingier the deeper teams go into the playoffs. The time and space that was there in the regular season for creative offensive minds disappears. The goalies often are the league’s elite. And Panarin, entering Saturday night’s win-or-else Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final against the Panthers at Amerant Bank Arena, had yet to solve the puzzle.

“I’ll probably need a drawing board and some video clips to show you the difference,” top-line center Mika Zibanejad said when asked by Newsday to describe how much tougher it is for players to create time and space for themselves in the offensive zone come the playoffs.

“We’re playing against a team that’s really good defensively and they take time and space from you. But you’ve just got to find ways to create time and space for yourself. It’s one thing to recognize it. It’s another thing to try and break it.”

Panarin entered Saturday without a goal in his previous eight matches despite 18 shots. His average of 2.25 shots over that span was not nearly enough, but Panarin did have an encouraging four in Thursday night’s 3-2 loss in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.

Overall, Panarin had four goals on 40 shots (10.0%) and 10 assists in the Rangers’ first 15 playoff games. But all four of those goals and five of the assists came in the first seven games of this postseason run as the Rangers swept the overmatched Capitals in the first round then took a 3-0 series lead on the Hurricanes.

The Rangers entered Saturday having lost five of their last eight matches without a goal from Panarin.

“When there’s a lot more on the line, guys are defending harder, blocking more shots, eliminating mistakes that might lead to offense,” said fourth-liner Barclay Goodrow, who won back-to-back Cups with the Lightning in 2020 and 2021. “We always talk about a five-man unit on the ice. It really takes everyone to create plays when teams are playing better defense.”

Back to Nash. In 2014, he led all skaters in the playoffs with 83 shots but scored just three goals. His shooting percentage of 3.6 made him the first forward in NHL postseason history to have at least 80 shots and compile a shooting percentage of less than 4.0.

Nash’s scoring futility reached its nadir in the deciding Game 5 of the Cup Final against the Kings as defenseman Slava Voynov used his stick shaft to miraculously knock away Nash’s one-timer staring at an open net in the second overtime. Defenseman Alec Martinez beat Henrik Lundqvist soon after to clinch the series.

Nash led the Rangers with 26 goals in the regular season in 2013-14. Panarin paced the team with 49 this regular season.

Goalie Jonathan Quick is a link between the two despite the 10-year gap. He backstopped the Kings to their second Cup in three seasons as they beat the Rangers and recalled on Saturday Nash was “always a nightmare to deal with.” Now, he’s the backup to Igor Shesterkin and practices with Panarin.

“I think that’s the biggest problem, too many people look at scoresheets,” Quick told Newsday. “The game is played out there, not whatever the stats say. A lot of those stats are for the fantasy hockey guys. Stat sheets, that doesn’t tell the game, that doesn’t tell what happens out there.”

That said, some analytics indicate Panarin is still playing effective hockey despite the lack of goals.

Per NaturalStatTrick.com, Panarin at five-on-five had been on the ice for 85:07 through the first five games and a part of 105 chances for and 83 chances against, so his chances for percentage of 55.85 led the Rangers. That included a team-high 20 high-danger chances.

Linemates Alexis Lafreniere and Vincent Trocheck both have had outstanding playoffs, with the latter leading the Rangers with 19 points on eight goals and 11 assists entering Saturday.

“I think ‘Bread’ has been playing good hockey,” Lafreniere said. “He obviously makes the game easier for me and Troch. He sees the ice so well. Every time I can get open, he’s going to find me.”

But, again, Panarin has no goals in his previous eight games. Plus, the Rangers’ power play, of which Panarin plays a crucial top-unit role, entered Saturday a crippling 2-for-24 in the previous nine games.

It’s a hard-to-explain playoff performance so far for Panarin, just as it was for Nash 10 years earlier.

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