Artemi Panarin #10 of the New York Rangers shots the...

Artemi Panarin #10 of the New York Rangers shots the puck during the third period against Brandon Montour #62 of the Florida Panthers in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden on Friday, May 24, 2024. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Florida? Again?

This is getting old for those who follow downstate New York’s two NHL teams, one or both of which might have a Stanley Cup this century if not for the Sunshine State.

Whose idea was this, anyway, putting two franchises in a state in which ice should be used only for drinks and for old folks’ strained muscles?


The forecast high temperature for Sunrise, Florida, on Sunday is in the mid-90s, which one could argue is normal late-round hockey playoff weather.

Sort of. This does not happen everywhere at this time of year.

But this is where the Rangers find themselves, with a now-best-of-five series for the Eastern Conference final against the Panthers and three of those potential games in a cool oasis inside a sauna.

Good luck with those ice conditions, boys!

Even 30 years into the NHL’s Florida experience, first with the Lightning in 1992 and with the Panthers in ’93, it’s still weird and always will be. Especially on Memorial Day weekend and beyond.

Anyway, here is a hot take to go with the hot weather: Florida, a famous southern branch office of New York, seems to have a hockey hex on the metropolitan area. If the Rangers do not solve it, they will not make it far into June.

To quote the late political commentator Tim Russert from a political context back in 2000: “Florida, Florida, Florida.”

Let’s review the recent history involving the Panthers’ cross-state counterparts. In 2015, the Rangers were coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance the year before when they hosted the Lightning in Game 7 of the conference finals. Tampa Bay won, 2-0.

In 2020, the Islanders reached Game 6 of the conference finals in the COVID-19 bubble in Edmonton and faced the Lightning. Tampa Bay won, 2-1, in overtime.

In 2021, the Islanders got another crack at the Lightning, this time taking them to a seventh game in the conference finals.

Tampa Bay won, 1-0.

In 2022, the Rangers won the first two games of the conference finals against the Lightning, then lost three in a row entering Game 6. Tampa Bay won, 2-1.

The Lightning are gone from these playoffs, at least. They lost in the first round in five games to . . . the Florida Panthers.

In fairness, playing pro hockey in Florida — home to millions of transplanted folks from the northern United States and eastern Canada — is far less silly than some other Sun Belt options that have come and gone.

And Florida paid its dues. Remember the Tropical Hockey League? You don’t, but it was a thing. In 1938-39, four teams, all playing in Coral Gables, tried to make a go of hockey in the South. The Coral Gable Seminoles finished first at 12-2, the Havana Tropicals last at 4-11. (Yes, Havana as in Cuba.)

That league didn’t last. But hockey maintained tenuous ties to the sport. Take Val James, who grew up in Hauppauge. Not only was he the first American-born Black player in the NHL when he joined the Sabres in 1981, he also was the first Florida-native NHL player. He was born in Ocala in 1957.

Later last century, the Rangers won a Stanley Cup, in 1994, at which time both Florida franchises were harmless expansion outfits that did not make the playoffs. Since then, they have taken turns being menaces. Now it is the Panthers’ time.

They began the series against the Rangers as the betting favorite and remain so after the Rangers beat them, 2-1, in overtime in Game 2 on Friday night to even the series at 1-1. Although the Rangers played far better than they had in losing Game 1, there were stretches in which the Panthers again showed how tough they can be to handle, especially when they get their forecheck going.

Another warning sign for the Blueshirts: Their vaunted power play is 0-for-6.

But the Rangers were the better team in overtime in Game 2 and got the job done, as they usually do.

By the way, the guy who assisted on Friday’s game-winner, Vincent Trocheck, played his first seven seasons with the Panthers, making this a return he called “nostalgic.”

Barclay Goodrow, who scored the Game 2 winner, spent parts of two seasons with Tampa Bay and ended both with his name on the Stanley Cup.

New York and Florida always have had many close ties, even if hockey is an unusual one. Now they are at it again. To get where they want to go, the Rangers are going to have to fight the history, and the humidity.


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