Rangers need Panarin, Kreider and Zibanejad to score and beat the Panthers in the East finals

NEW YORK – If the New York Rangers want to have any chance of winning the Eastern Conference finals against the Florida Panthers, it’s time for their best offensive players to find the net.

Through the first four games of the series, Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad have not scored a goal. They combined to score 114 in the regular season and helped New York win the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best team.

Panarin has contributed three assists against Florida as the Rangers have split the first four games. Kreider and Zibanejad have combined for zero points. Even Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has an assist.

Panarin had two of his assists in Tuesday night’s 3-2 overtime loss in Game 4, as Kreider and Zibanejad were missing from the offensive zone.

Kreider had no chance on Tuesday, finishing with one total in 38 minutes of ice time over the two games in Florida. Zibanejad had nine shots in 44 minutes in those games, hitting the crossbar from close range on a power play in Game 4 when a goal could have given New York a 2-0 lead.

Game 5 of what is now a best-of-three series is scheduled for Thursday evening at Madison Square Garden.

Rangers coach Peter Laviolette had no problems with Kreider and Zibanejad, saying both work hard but spend too much time in their own zone defending. Breakout passes don’t work, and Florida’s forecheck often prevents the top line from playing in the Panthers zone.

“(You) think the players you’re talking about, like they want to get out of the defensive zone,” Laviolette said. “They want to get into the offensive zone where they can make an impact in the game. And so that’s something I thought we did a much better job at home controlling the game.

In the New York games, Laviolette will make the final line change so he can get a more favorable matchup for Zibanejad, Kreider and whoever else ends up on the top line. In Games 3 and 4, Florida coach Paul Maurice matched Sam Bennett, Evan Rodrigues and Matthew Tkachuk against the Zibanejad line.

Don’t expect to see that in New York, where the Rangers look to take a series lead when they need their top scorers to get on the board. During the regular season, Panarin led the team with 49 goals, while Kreider had 39 goals and Zibanejad had 26.


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