Vladimir Tarasenko #10 of the Florida Panthers skates against the...

Vladimir Tarasenko #10 of the Florida Panthers skates against the Boston Bruins during the second period in Game Six of the Second Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the TD Garden on May 17, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts.  Credit: Getty Images

The Rangers are just one of four teams Vladimir Tarasenko has played for in the last two seasons. So the Russian winger had other reasons to be emotional for Wednesday night’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final between the Panthers, his latest club, and the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden other than it feeling like a homecoming.

“I spent a little more time in St. Louis,” Tarasenko joked of his 10-plus seasons with the Blues.

Still, Rangers-Panthers with a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final marks the first time Tarasenko, 32, has faced a former team in the playoffs.

And his stay with the Panthers may ultimately wind up as short as his time on Broadway as Tarasenko is, once again, a pending unrestricted free agent.

The Rangers acquired Tarasenko from the Blues on Feb. 9, 2023, along with defenseman Niko Mikkola — also now with the Panthers — and he compiled eight goals and 13 assists in 31 games, plus three goals and an assist in their seven-game, first-round loss to the Devils.

Then, Tarasenko signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Senators, who traded him to the Panthers on March 6. He had six goals and eight assists in 19 regular-season games for the Panthers and entered the conference final with two goals and three assists in 11 postseason games skating on top-line center Aleksander Barkov’s left wing along with Sam Reinhart.

“It’s a great building to play in, a great atmosphere,” Tarasenko said of returning to the Garden. “It’s going to be very emotional.”

Tarasenko quickly clarified those emotions had nothing to do with facing the Rangers.

“It’s a conference final,” said Tarasenko, who won the Cup with the Blues in 2019 with 11 goals and six assists in 26 playoff games. “It’s a big stage. That’s why we play hockey, to be here and make it to the Final. MSG is one of the best buildings in the league and it’s going to be loud and whoever can control their emotions better will have a better chance to win.”

So Tarasenko is definitely not reminiscing about his time with the Rangers. Not now.

“I don’t really look back now,” Tarasenko said. “I met a lot of great people here. Some new friends. I don’t really think about it right now. We have a series to play. I have a lot of good memories.”

Panthers coach Paul Maurice said one of his main memories of Tarasenko came as the Jets bench boss in the 2019 playoffs. The Jets and Blues were tied at two games apiece in the first round and the Jets had the lead in Game 5 when current Ranger Blake Wheeler beat the Blues defense up the wall.

But Tarasenko raced back, caught Wheeler and broke up the play. The Blues won in six games.

“What I didn’t know about him is how much he loves the game and how much he loves talking about the game,” Maurice said. “He and Barkov will talk hockey the entire game. That’s what inspires him and keeps him in the game.”

More Rangers


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months