FLA Game 4 column 52824 OT goal celly

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers’ persistence paid off.

For a while during their 3-2 overtime win against the New York Rangers in Game 4 of Eastern Conference Final on Tuesday, particularly in the third period, it felt like they were living a repeating nightmare of Game 3.

But Florida was able to write a different ending this time with Sam Reinhart scoring a power-play goal 1:12 into overtime to even the best-of-7 series 2-2.

“Any time we're in those high-pressure situations, overtimes, we're super relaxed in the locker room, super confident,” Panthers forward Sam Bennett said. “There's really no worry. We have the most belief that someone in this locker room's going to get it done. It was ‘Reino’ tonight.”

It would’ve been understandable before Reinhart’s goal if the Panthers were a little worried, though. They lost the previous two games in overtime and a third straight would’ve sent them back to New York for Game 5 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ESPN, SN, TVAS, CBC) facing elimination.

And in many ways, the game was a carbon copy of Game 3, which Florida lost 5-4 on Alex Wennberg’s deflection goal in overtime despite outshooting New York 37-23 and having a 108-43 advantage in shot attempts. Through the end of regulation Tuesday, the Panthers had outshot the Rangers 38-23 and had an 87-44 advantage in shot attempts, but the score was tied mostly because of Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin, who stopped quality shot after quality shot.

In fact, the Rangers scored the lone goal in the third period -- Alexis Lafrenière’s redirection from outside the left post at 3:28 -- to tie the score at 2-2 despite being outshot 13-5 in the period and managing only six shot attempts to the Panthers’ 35.

Florida easily could’ve had some déjà vu from that after having a 41-11 dominance in shot attempts in the third period of Game 3. The Panthers didn’t allow that kind of thinking enter their locker room, though, during the intermission before overtime.

“You just don’t let yourself because the last game was the last game,” coach Paul Maurice said. “ … I would say for a big chunk of the games that we played in our last two, they played as hard as they possibly can, they stuck together, they cared for each other, they treated each other right, each one of them took the lead at a different time or a different play.

“So, the result will be the result. There’s nothing left to do.”

Or as captain Aleksander Barkov described the Panthers’ mindset: “Just believe in us. Believe it’s going to come at some point, and it did today.”

It did after Rangers forward Blake Wheeler was called for hooking Barkov on a breakaway 59 seconds into overtime. If Barkov and the Panthers were wishing Barkov would’ve been awarded a penalty shot on the play instead of a power play, they weren’t saying after the game.

“Maybe the truth is I don’t know if you asked me if I got to pick one which one I would pick,” Maurice said. “If we hadn’t scored, penalty shot all the way. That’s just the truth.”

Florida made the debate moot by taking only 13 seconds to covert on the power play. It came on a set play to Reinhart in the slot, where he scored the majority of his NHL-leading 27 power-play goals during the regular season.

After Reinhart won the right circle face-off to begin the power play, the Panthers passed the puck quickly around the outside of the Rangers’ penalty kill before Reinhart eased his way into slot and took a pass from Barkov below the right circle that he whipped into the net in over Shesterkin’s catching glove.

“If he’s open, obviously, we want to look for him and he’s in the slot and just get the puck to him,” Barkov said. “Obviously, he’s scored a lot of goals from there and works really hard in the practices shooting from there, so you want to get the puck to him and that’s what happened.”

It was the Panthers’ second power-play goal of the game and fifth in the past three games, but unquestionably the biggest. It came on the first clean shot the Panthers got past Shesterkin in the game. Their other two goals came on a rebound jam by Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe’s backhand bat-in from in front in the second period.

“He’s arguably one of the best goalies in the world,” Reinhart said. “He’s going to make his saves. I think when the game is tight and the way we play, we’re going to generate chances. The more we can stick with it, the more we can stick to our structure, the more comfortable we’ll be, and you’ve got to believe that one is going to go in.”