Rangers center Mika Zibanejad attempts a shot at Florida Panthers goaltender...

Rangers center Mika Zibanejad attempts a shot at Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in the second period of Game 3 during the Eastern Conference Final of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on Sunday in Sunrise, Fla. Credit: AP/Wilfredo Lee


Ask your average avid hockey fan in south Florida, Dallas or Edmonton to name four non-goalie, non-Rempe Rangers stars, and the answer is simple.

It goes like this: Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Adam Fox. Choose your order. Those are the four.

But in the first three games of the Eastern Conference final, none of them has stood out on offense the way they usually do.

They have a total of two assists and no goals. They’re members of the team’s elite power-play unit that is 0-for-8 against the Panthers.

The obvious positive for the Rangers is that despite all that, they lead the series 2-1 going into Game 4 on Tuesday night.

Alexis Lafreniere, Barclay Goodrow and Vincent Trocheck, among others, have seen to that, as has goaltender Igor Shesterkin.

That is fine as far as it goes. There also is an obvious question here, though: Can the Rangers close the deal without more from their big four and their power play?

They could, of course. But this is no time to be counting on the likes of Goodrow to maintain his shocking playoff pace of six goals in 13 games.

Nope, this is the moment for one or more big guns to take their shots.

On one hand, coach Peter Laviolette said on Monday that he needs to see more from the power play, which is 1-for-18 dating to early in the second round.

“We’re playing an aggressive kill, aggressive on entry, aggressive in its setup,” he said. “So we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be sharper with what we’re doing on the ice.”

On the other hand, Laviolette said he is not worried about his stars shining in the days ahead.

“It’s a team sport,” he said. “You need everybody contributing. Not everybody can be the story. You try to push that. Everybody will make the noise, will be the ink on the paper, and for the good of the team, not for individual reasons.

“It takes a team in order to keep moving on. You need it from everybody. We’re confident in our group, certainly confident in the players you’re talking about as well.”

Fox has not seemed quite himself since a leg-to-leg collision with the Capitals’ Nick Jensen in the first round. But Panarin (four game-winning goals) and Kreider (a natural third-period hat trick in the clincher against the Hurricanes) have had their moments.

Just not in this series.

Zibanejad, who has not scored a goal in the last eight games, said of the power play, “We’ve had some chances, maybe not as many as we would like or converted on the chances that we’ve had, but just have to keep working on it and keep staying with it.

“It’s pretty easy to overthink it and try to come up with something completely different just because we haven’t scored. I think we’ve got to stay the course.”

Laviolette did not rule out personnel changes on the power play, but he noted that he must balance those players’ long history of success together.

The line that features Zibanejad and Kreider mostly has faced that of star Panthers center Aleksander Barkov five-on-five. Mostly they have fought to a draw.

Zibanejad called it a “balance” to focus on defense while also trying to make things happen offensively.

“New game tomorrow, new opportunity to contribute offensively,” he said.

Goodrow and Lafreniere each scored two goals in Sunday’s 5-4 overtime victory in Game 3, and the game-winner came from the unlikely stick of Alex Wennberg.

“We didn’t score, but it’s really good that our roster is deep and other guys can do that as well, so that’s how it is,” Panarin said through an interpreter on Monday.

Regarding the power play, he said, “They play well in shorthanded situations, but we still have our chances. But we need to score more. Everything is not that complicated. We have to score more.”

Again, the Rangers lead the series 2-1, and the Panthers are frustrated after they found a way to lose Game 3 despite dominating for stretches.

That is a good thing for the Rangers. But two more victories are required.

Fox, Kreider, Zibanejad and Panarin could — and should — help make that happen.


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