TAMPA, Fla. — As go the Rangers’ stars, so go the Rangers. And Artemi Panarin, who goes back to New York for Game 5 with just one even-strength point to his name in the Eastern Conference Final, is very much at the center of that equation.
After two power-play assists in Game 3, Panarin got on the scoresheet with a consolation power-play goal on Tuesday when the Rangers were down by three late in the third, but at even strength, was largely absent from the 4-1 loss to the Lightning in Game 4. It didn’t help matters that he played without Ryan Strome, his usual centerman, who was out with a lower-body injury suffered in Game 3.
When Panarin struggled against Carolina in the second round, it was clear the Hurricanes’ man-on-man defensive style had a lot to do with why. The Hurricanes cut off his space, and made it hard for him to play his game. The Lightning don’t play that way — making this issue harder to diagnose.
“Hard to say after Carolina, because they play one-on-one. Much more time now,” Panarin said without the help of a translator after Game 4. “So I don’t know [what’s wrong]. I don’t think we have to like, change something, just to fix small things, and then keep playing how we play at home ice.”
Panarin finished Game 4 with just one shot on net over 21:24, and a 30.57 expected goals percentage at even strength, per Natural Stat Trick. That was in large part a symptom of a larger problem the Rangers have developed — over two games in Tampa, they failed to score once at even strength, and on Tuesday, the Lightning essentially dominated at five-on-five.
The Rangers were largely succinct in trying to explain their issues afterward. Coach Gerard Gallant answered a question about whether the team generated enough offense with one word: “No.”
Panarin, though, gave some insight.
“On one side, I think we have to build everything,” he said. “Like passes, simple things. [Be] a bit closer to the guys on the forecheck. Shoot more pucks at the net.”
Chris Kreider largely rejected the idea that the Rangers need to generate more off rebounds, saying they needed more lateral movement with the puck to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“It’s moving it east/west across the middle of the ice, getting the puck off your stick in less than half a second,” Kreider said. “I don’t really care who’s in net. Every goalie in the world struggles with a puck that goes east/west, has to battle through traffic and then … can’t get set to it. That’s what gives us our best chance.”