Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin falls to the ice as he...

Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin falls to the ice as he passes the puck during the first period of Game 6 against the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Finals of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday in Sunrise, Fla. Credit: AP/Lynne Sladky

GREENBURGH – Artemi Panarin scored the Rangers’ final goal of 2023-24, an ultimately futile tally with 1:40 left before time ran out on them for good.

The symbolism was as subtle as a Matt Rempe check into the boards: Too little, too late, for the team and for its highest-paid player and biggest non-goalie star.

That goal in a 2-1 loss to the Panthers on Saturday in the sixth game of the Eastern Conference final was Panarin’s fifth of the playoffs but first after an eight-game drought.

That is not good enough, not for a player of his talent and $11.6 million salary, and not for a Rangers team desperate to get over the Stanley Cup hump.

No one expects Panarin to be Connor McDavid, because no one alive can match the Oilers star’s superpowers, soon to be seen in the Final.

But they can expect Panarin to be the kind of player who lifts his team when it matters most.

Panarin, who scored 49 goals in the regular season, saw Florida clamp down on him, denying the space he needs to operate, part of an overall defensive effort that also limited Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and beyond.

Rangers players on Tuesday cleaned out their lockers and looked back on their season following their playoff exit in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Florida Panthers. Newsday's Colin Stephenson reports. Credit: Colin Stephenson

That was the biggest reason the Rangers found themselves here on Tuesday, talking to team officials and later reporters before setting off for the offseason.

Credit to Panarin for not shying away from what went wrong in the conference final, but it was worth noting his upbeat demeanor despite the disappointment.

That might not be what Rangers fan want from him and the team’s other stars in the wake of another Cup-less finish. But it did bode well for his mindset and mojo heading into next season.

He was philosophical, analytical and funny during his session with journalists, and notably more upbeat than after last year’s playoffs ended.

Then, he was bummed out about a goalless first-round series against the Devils. This time, he saw good in the bigger picture.

“Every game was close,” Panarin said. “It goes their way. Good luck, great team. Hard to play against.

“I feel we still can beat them, but we lost. What can you do? Just do it again over and over. Go back, practice, be ready for next year.”

Panarin, a freewheeling playmaker and scorer, admitted the Panthers were a tough matchup for him.

“I think they’re a pretty fast team, heavy team,” he said. “They’re kind of close to you every time, like one foot from you. They took risks a lot, too, to go on you no matter what, face to face.”

Panarin said they could afford to play that way because in the playoffs teams are more conservative offensively, anticipating close, low-scoring games.

As a result, defenses can be more aggressive. That took the Rangers out of their game.

“In my opinion we’re not taking a little bit extra risk, which you have to do, because we have the skills,” he said. “You’ve kind of got to trust your instincts, which we did not do enough.”

And, of course, there was this: “Power play,” Panarin said. “We’ve got to score. We didn’t.” The Rangers were 1-for-15 in the series.

Coach Peter Laviolette rejected the notion that players such as Panarin have a particular matchup problem against the now two-time conference champion Panthers.

“There’s a reason why they’re there,” he said. “They played defense well against us. This wasn’t something they did just against us.

“I believe that our players can find success against a team like Florida. We didn’t get it done, so we have to be better at it the next time we get an opportunity.”

Panarin said of his overall postseason performance, “Eh. I wish I scored 15 goals, but I’m not. Honestly, I don’t know what to say.”

Did he feel the same way as he did at the end of last season? “No, no,” he said.

So presumably Panarin will not show up to training camp next season with a cleansing shaved head. Not with his head in a good space heading to the offseason.

Panarin said he was proud to be part of an organization with fans all over North America. He said arena workers in Washington, Carolina and Florida told him in confidence that they were pulling for the Rangers to win.

“Pretty sad we couldn’t make them happy this year,” he said. “But thank you.”

Panarin called his friend Sergei Bobrovsky, the Panthers’ goaltender, to wish him well in the Final “and give him (expletive).”

Bobrovsky’s next challenge is McDavid. Panarin’s next challenge will come next spring.


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