The Panthers took two of three from the Blueshirts in the regular season but the Rangers are riding the red-hot goaltending of Igor Shesterkin. NewsdayTV's Jamie Stuart reports.

GREENBURGH – The topic at the Madison Square Garden Training Center on Tuesday was practice.

Not a game. They were talking about practice.

“If you've been to all our practices, it's been a lot of competing,’’ center Mika Zibanejad said. “I think we've been creating those habits in practice, through 82 (regular season) games, so I think we're enjoying competing on the ice against each other and we want to win.’’

“Everything is a game within a game,’’ Zibanejad’s linemate, Chris Kreider, said. “It's just kind of been ingrained in us from the first day, all those little small games as small competitions. You can't not work as hard as you possibly can in a situation like that. That just raises everyone’s level.’’

The topic of practice came up because, the day before the Rangers opened the Eastern Conference final against the Florida Panthers, general manager Chris Drury was asked about coach Peter Laviolette, who Drury hired last summer to replace Gerard Gallant. Laviolette brought a more structured, detailed approach to coaching the team and his high-intensity, competitive practices are a stark departure from the laid back skates that Gallant favored.

And everyone, players and executives alike, seems to like that.

“Our practices are fun to watch,’’ Drury said. “There's a lot of joy in the players’ actions, emotions, (and in) how they compete… I think ‘Lavy’ and the staff design practices every day with a plan, and how hard they play in practice translates to the games. You know, if it doesn't happen in practice, it's not going to magically happen in the games.’’

The way the schedule has worked out for the Rangers in the postseason, they’ve had enough time to rest. Also, they’ve had the opportunity to practice hard and get work done on the ice as they prepared for the next game. After the regular season, Laviolette gave them two days off, then worked them hard in practice. After the sweep over Washington, the coach gave the players three days off in all, then had three practices to get ready for Carolina.

After the win over Carolina, Laviolette continued the pattern, giving the team two days off, then practicing for three straight days leading into Game 1 of the series against Florida that begins Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

“It's worked to our advantage,’’ Laviolette said Sunday of the practice schedule with all the rest days built in. “It's given our guys a chance to rest, and then, I think for coaches to prepare a little bit, too. And then when we do meet, we can have the days be constructive, and start to get ready for the next round on what we think we need to do.’’

On Tuesday, Laviolette said in order for his ultra-competitive practices to work, he had to have “buy-in’’ from the players. And he said he got that immediately.

“I've often found that if, if you feel like it's work, well then you're coming to work,’’ Laviolette said. “And if you feel like you're coming to the rink to have fun and compete and enjoy what you do, then that's oftentimes what you do and not necessarily consider it work. And I think our guys have bought into that. They enjoy competing against each other, they enjoy the speed and the pace, and going head to head against each other. And it shows out on the ice.

“And I also think that by doing that it's translated into the games,’’ he said. “They say that you play how you practice, and I think our guys had a pretty good reflection of that on a daily basis.’’

Notes & quotes: D Ryan Lindgren (maintenance) did not practice… Filip Chytil, who returned to the lineup after a six-month absence for Game 3 of the Carolina series, and then did not play in Games 4, 5, or 6, skated at left wing on a line with center Alex Wennberg and right wing Kaapo Kakko. If he plays Wednesday, it will be his first game at the Garden since he was injured in a game against Carolina back on Nov. 2. “It's a very long time since last time, but I could see during the games there's great crowds,’’ Chytil said. “We have great fans, so I can't wait to be out there on the ice and enjoy that atmosphere. But most importantly to give (the fans) the win tomorrow and start with 1-0 (series lead).’’

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