The Rangers are on the brink of elimination in the playoffs. Newsday Rangers reporter Colin Stephenson explains.

The Rangers’ Stanley Cup dreams are on the verge of being shattered.

Anton Lundell scored at 10:22 of the third period to break a tie and the Florida Panthers ended up beating the Rangers 3-2 Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final, pushing the Rangers to the brink of playoff elimination.

The Panthers lead the best-of-seven series, 3-2, and can finish the Rangers on Saturday, if they can win Game 6 at home in Florida on Saturday. If the Rangers can steal a road win to force Game 7, that would be back at the Garden on Monday.

The Rangers did look better than they did in Games 3 and 4 in Florida, where both games went to overtime and somehow they managed a split, to reclaim home ice advantage in the series. They were dominated in both games in Florida, with the shot attempts being 108-44 and 89-44, in favor of Florida. In this one, the shot attempts were 71-70, in favor of the Panthers.

“It was a good effort, but you want to win, and especially a critical game here at home,’’ Rangers defenseman Adam Fox said. “But now we’ve just got to go there, get one, and give ourselves a chance to come back here and win a Game 7.’’

The score was tied, 1-1, when Lundell scored on a rush, flipping a shot past defenseman Braden Schneider and through a screen set by former Ranger Vladimir Tarasenko to beat Igor Shesterkin (34 saves) for his third goal of the playoffs.

Florida’s Sam Bennett scored into an empty net with 1:52 remaining to make it 3-1, before Alexis Lafreniere deflected in a shot by Mika Zibanejad with 49.7 seconds left to give the Rangers a chance.

But it was not to be. Now, if the Rangers are to stay alive, they are going to have to replicate one more feat the 1994 team did, and rally for a win on the road in Game 6, as the ’94 team did in New Jersey, on the strength of Mark Messier’s hat trick.

“Win a game,’’ forward Chris Kreider said, when asked about the task facing the Rangers to stay alive. “Go in there, win one game. Play our best game, and give ourselves a chance.’’

Kreider, whose third-period hat trick in Game 6 of the second-round series against Carolina had pulled the Rangers out of a hole and won that series, scored his first goal of this series, shorthanded, at 2:04 of the second period, to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

It was the first goal by one of the big three of Kreider, Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin in the series, and it came with defenseman K’Andre Miller in the box serving a tripping penalty. Kreider broke up a pass at the blue line by Matthew Tkachuk and passed to Zibanejad, who gave it back to Kreider, streaking up the middle.

Kreider shielded Florida forward Sam Reinhart off with his backside, drove straight at goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (25 saves), pulled the puck to his backhand, and tucked it around Bobrovsky for his eighth goal of the playoffs, and the Rangers’ sixth shorthanded goal of the playoffs, which tied a franchise record.

Florida tied it up on a goal by defenseman Gustav Forsling, who got behind Lafreniere and into the slot, and took Bennett’s pass and backhanded it past Shesterkin at 8:21 to tie it, 1-1.

The Rangers had a chance to take the lead in the third period when former Ranger Niko Mikkola was called for tripping his good pal, and fellow Finn, Kaapo Kakko, at 6:58 of the period. But the power play, which was 1-for-11 in the series, and on a 2-for-21 stretch overall entering the game, failed again. The man up unit was 0-for-3 in the game.

“Close isn't cutting it,’’ Fox said. “We’ve got to capitalize on those chances. It's you know, big spots. We have some looks, but you don't win games based on getting looks. You’ve got to capitalize. And yeah, it's definitely on us.’’

The Rangers left the Garden understanding exactly where they stood in the series, and what the mission is going into Saturday.

“Leave it all out there,’’ captain Jacob Trouba said. “Go win one game. There’s nothing to save it for. Your back’s against the wall. Everybody’s got to bring their best game to survive another day.’’

Notes and quotes

Rangers coach Peter Laviolette made one change to his lineup, re-inserting forward Filip Chytil, who’d been rested in Game 4. Blake Wheeler came out of the lineup to make room for Chytil.

More Rangers


FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.