Rangers left wing Chris Kreider scores past Florida Panthers goaltender...

Rangers left wing Chris Kreider scores past Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky during the second period of Game 5 in the Eastern Conference final of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, May 30, 2024. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The scoresheet shows Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers’ top-line scorers who had yet to notch a point against the Panthers in the first four matches of the Eastern Conference final, each with two points in Thursday night’s Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.

But it was not enough to keep the Rangers’ season from reaching the brink with a 3-2 loss, with one goal coming shorthanded and the other six-on-five late in regulation. Missing was a five-on-five or power-play goal and either – or both – will be critical for success in Saturday night’s win-or-else Game 6 in Sunrise, Florida.

“Every game has been super close I’ve thought,” said Kreider, who took Zibanejad’s feed on a shorthanded rush and slipped a backhander past the left pad of stretched-out goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at 2:04 of the second period to open the scoring. “We’ve got to continue to get pucks and bodies to the net.”

It marked the Rangers’ sixth shorthanded goal in 15 postseason matches to tie a team record. The Rangers also had six shorthanded playoff goals in 1979 – in 18 matches – as they lost to the Canadiens in a five-game Stanley Cup final.

Kreider tied Alexis Lafreniere and Artemi Panarin – still without a goal in the series – for a team high with four shots. But Zibanejad went without a shot on net – he had one attempt blocked and three others miss the net – while the Rangers’ power play again struggled, going 0-for-3 to drop to 1-for-14 in the series.

“It’s kind of there but it’s missing that last pass or the last execution,” said Zibanejad, who had the primary assist with Kreider notching the secondary helper on Lafreniere’s tip-in to close the scoring at 19:10 of the third period with goalie Igor Shesterkin off for an extra skater.

“We know what we’re capable of doing and we’ve just got to make sure we take advantage of the chances when they come.”

The Rangers’ penalty kill, meanwhile, had its strongest game of the series, going 3-for-3 and allowing the Panthers just two man-advantage shots after they had gone 5-for-12 on the power play over the previous three games.

Zibanejad’s even-strength trio with Kreider started with Filip Chytil on right wing before coach Peter Laviolette shortened his bench – fourth liner Matt Rempe received just four shifts and 2:43 of ice time – and blended his lines.

“I thought they both played hard,” Laviolette said of Kreider and Zibanejad. “They came out with the right intentions and generated a lot more. I thought Chris was really noticeable. I thought Mika was moving to get things to Chris and make plays to him. So there were some positive things.”

Still, not enough against the Panthers’ tight defense.

“We don’t prep differently for the elite players on their team to their fourth-line players,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “We view them all the same. The difference would be our elite players are going to play against their elite players. I don’t think there’s anything tactical. I don’t think there’s anything from a coaching point of view other than we adhere to a style of game pretty well.”

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