Vladimir Tarasenko #10 of the Florida Panthers scores a goal...

Vladimir Tarasenko #10 of the Florida Panthers scores a goal past Igor Shesterkin #31 of the Rangers during the third period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amerant Bank Arena on June 01, 2024 in Sunrise, Florida. Credit: Getty Images

SUNRISE, Fla. — All season long, the Rangers had found all kinds of ways to pull rabbits out of their hat, always seemingly managing to win games they didn’t deserve to win. They protected leads and they came back from deficits. They won low-scoring games and high-scoring games. No hole was too deep, no hill too tall to climb.

But their magic finally ran out Saturday night against a Florida Panthers team that ultimately proved to be too big, too fast, too skilled and too relentless.

Goals by Sam Bennett in the first period and Vladimir Tarasenko in the third were the difference in pushing the Panthers to a 2-1 victory over the Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final at Amerant Bank Arena, ending the Rangers’ season six wins shy of capturing the Stanley Cup.

“We were in first place in the league all year,’’ Adam Fox said. “Obviously, we thought we could win the whole thing. And whenever you’ve got [goalie Igor Shesterkin], you always have a chance . . . So yeah, the goal from training camp was to win a Cup, and we came up short of that.’’

The Atlantic Division champion Panthers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight season. They will face the winner of the Western Conference final between Dallas and Edmonton.

The Rangers, Presidents’ Trophy winners as the best team in the regular season, will go home and try to figure out what went wrong and what they need to shore up before next season.

Sergei Bobrovsky made 23 saves for the Panthers and Shesterkin did all he could while making 32 saves.

Tarasenko’s goal gave Florida a 2-0 lead. That proved to be necessary insurance as Artemi Panarin finally scored his first goal of the series with 1:40 remaining after Shesterkin was pulled for the extra attacker.

The Rangers lost the last three games and were beaten in the conference final for the second time in three years.

Peter Laviolette, in his first year as Rangers coach and who guided the team to a league-best and franchise-record 55 wins and 114 points, was proud of his team’s effort.

“Our guys fought this year,’’ he said. “They bought in right from the start . . . We make it to this point, [but] it’s disappointing. When you start something like this, you don’t do it to get three wins in the playoffs, or five wins in the playoffs. You do it to go the whole way. There’s a disappointment right now that sets in for sure with regard to our group and our intentions that we had throughout the course of the year.

“Nobody was expecting to be on this end of it. You’re expecting to come in here tonight, win a hockey game and bring it back to MSG for Game 7 [on Monday].’’

Trailing 1-0 in the third, the Rangers were pressing for the equalizer when Tarasenko, a trade deadline pickup by the Panthers who’d had a quiet series, drove the middle and swept in a pass from Anton Lundell at 9:08 to make it 2-0.

Panarin’s goal gave the Rangers a chance, but the Panthers, who allowed only 12 goals in the six games, shut the door after that.

“It’s pretty fresh now to say something, but offense [was the problem],’’ Panarin said. “They had a lot of time in our zone. We kind of played conservative. But they’re kind of a pressure team, all five guys. It’s dangerous, but it works for them.’’

Laviolette shook up the lineup for Game 6, inserting Jonny Brodzinski in place of Matt Rempe and changing up all his forward lines except the Panarin-Vincent Trocheck-Alexis Lafreniere trio.

Alex Wennberg, usually the third-line center, played right wing on the Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad line. Filip Chytil, who had been in that spot, replaced Wennberg as the third-line center between Kaapo Kakko and Barclay Goodrow, who moved up from the fourth line.

Jack Roslovic, who’d started the playoffs on the Kreider-Zibanejad line, dropped to the fourth line, which had Brodzinski at center and Will Cuylle at left wing.

A breakdown led to Bennett’s goal that gave Florida the lead with 48.5 seconds before the first intermission.

Erik Gustafsson’s backhand clearing attempt was knocked down by Evan Rodrigues and retrieved by Bennett in the neutral zone. A flat-footed Jacob Trouba swiped at the puck as Bennett came across the blue line, but he missed it and found himself out of position to defend either Bennett or Rodrigues. Bennett passed to Rodrigues, who passed it back, and Bennett ripped a one-timer into the top far corner, just inside where the post and crossbar meet, for his sixth goal of the playoffs.

The second period was scoreless, but Shesterkin played a big part in that, making a left pad save on a breakaway backhander by Matthew Tkachuk with 4:32 left in the period. Roughly two minutes later, a shot by Kreider missed the net, hit the back boards and rebounded through the slot, missing the backside of Bobrovsky and hopping over Zibanejad’s stick.

More Rangers

ONE-DAY SALE26¢ for 5 6 months