New York Rangers lost the opening game of the Eastern Confernce Finals against the Florida Panthers. NewsdayTV's Jasmine Anderson reports. Credit: Mario Gonzalez; Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

If the Rangers thought they had faced adversity when they lost two straight games to the Carolina Hurricanes after taking a 3-0 lead in their previous series, they face a higher level of adversity now.

For the first time in this postseason, they trail in a playoff series after dropping Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in a 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Matthew Tkachuk scored for Florida late in the first period, and Carter Verhaeghe scored late in the third when his centering pass was deflected in by Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere with 3:48 remaining. Sam Bennett added an empty-net goal with 1:19 left.

Sergei Bobrovsky, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the goaltender of the year in the regular season, made 23 saves to earn his second career playoff shutout. Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin kept the home team in it with 24 saves.

“They played extremely tight,’’ Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said of the Panthers. “I thought we had opportunities that we didn’t cash in on early. I thought that we could have executed better. Some of that we’ve got to give [credit] to them; some of that we got to take responsibility with our execution …

“I thought we got a little bit sharper in the third period, but our execution’s got to be better.’’

“It’s on to the next game,’’ captain Jacob Trouba said. “It’s a long fight, I think throughout the course of the series. You’re probably going to be down, at some point, throughout the playoffs, and you look to respond. Anytime you lose a game, you look to respond the next one.’’

Game 2 is Friday night at the Garden.

The Rangers, down 1-0 entering the third period, appeared to fall into a deeper hole when Florida’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored through traffic with 11:15 remaining. But the Rangers challenged the goal, alleging goaltender interference against Florida’s Ryan Lomberg.

On the replay, Lomberg appeared to have been pushed into Shesterkin by Ranger defenseman Ryan Lindgren. But after review, the referees ruled Lomberg had already made contact with Shesterkin before he was pushed by Lindgren and the goal was waved off.

But with the Rangers pressing for the tying goal, Verhaeghe collected a puck near the left boards and sent a puck toward the slot that Lafreniere tried to knock to the corner. Instead, the puck bounced off his stick and got behind Shesterkin.

With both teams well rested after wrapping up their respective second-round series last week, the game got off to a fast start. Florida got the game’s first power play when Trouba fanned on a pass behind his own goal line and was forced to hook Aleksander Barkov. But the Rangers’ penalty kill, second-best in the playoffs (89.5%), killed it.

Florida, though, got on the board first when Tkachuk whipped a shot past a partially screened Shesterkin at 16:26 for his fifth goal of the playoffs. The Rangers came close to an equalizer little more than a minute later, but Braden Schneider’s breakaway shot hit post.

Laviolette tried to shake things up in the second when he jumbled his lines, dropping Jack Roslovic off the top line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, and rotating Artemi Panarin and Filip Chytil in his spot at right wing there. Kaapo Kakko dropped to the fourth line, with Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey, and Roslovic ended up on the third line, on the right of Will Cuylle and Alexander Wennberg.

The Rangers got their first power play with 1:26 left in the second period, but they had trouble generating much, with their best chance coming on a one-timer by Zibanejad that hit the skates of Vincent Trocheck, standing at the left wing post, just as the horn was about to sound to end the period.

“It’s playoff hockey,’’ Kreider said. “Everything has to be simple. They put everything behind us, and they went to work. We didn’t do it nearly enough, and even when we did we were disjointed with our forecheck.

“You talk about not moving pucks up the ice quick enough. Just playing simple, quick hockey, giving ourselves an opportunity to roll our lines, to roll our forecheck. That wasn’t there nearly enough tonight.’’

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