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NEW YORK -- Of course the Florida Panthers would love to have taken a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Final.

“The goal is to win every game, right?” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “Like to win both.”

Despite not doing so, the Panthers said they are content to go home with a split after the New York Rangers’ 2-1 overtime win in Game 2 at Madison Square Garden on Friday.

The fact that they were on the cusp of a stranglehold, one shot away, isn’t disheartening.

Yes, they had opportunities. 

Maurice said they had seven or eight high-quality chances, which is high for his team. Aleksander Barkov hit the post from in close with the game tied 1-1 late in the second period. Ryan Lomberg had a good chance early in overtime, but goalie Igor Shesterkin flashed his glove to handle it. 

There was a swagger from the Panthers as the game went into the extra period.

They had won 11 straight Stanley Cup Playoff games decided in overtime, including two in their four-game sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the conference final last season and one in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final, when they lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games. 

But the law of averages came home to roost when Rangers forward Barclay Goodrow scored at 14:01 of overtime, his 40-foot snap shot beating Sergei Bobrovsky, who had been brilliant throughout the game.

Afterward, it was hard for Maurice to pick out much to be sour about.

“I’m fine with tonight,” he said. “You shouldn’t come in and beat the Presidents’ Trophy team twice in their own building. You really shouldn’t.”

FLA@NYR ECF, Gm2: Goodrow fires it in for Rangers overtime win

They didn’t defeat the Rangers twice, but they have put a scare into them heading into Game 3 at Amerant Bank Arena on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, TVAS, CBC).

“That’s the playoff hockey,” said Bobrovsky, who finished with 28 saves. “Our guys worked really hard. It’s a tight game, a one-goal game. We [need] to keep going.”

The Panthers say they expect another tough game, low-scoring and hard-hitting, judging by what they have seen.

“I think that is what happens when you get the two best teams in the conference,” Florida forward Carter Verhaeghe said. “It’s going to be a battle. They are playing hard defense, we’re playing hard defense. It’s a struggle to get chances.”

The Panthers, though, have been better for longer stretches across the first 134 minutes.

Florida shut out New York in Game 1, a 3-0 win Wednesday, and allowed one goal in regulation in Game 2, when the Rangers came out flying and scored first on a tic-tac-toe play that was finished by Vincent Trocheck at 4:12 of the first period.

Through two games, the Panthers have trailed for a total of 13:57. They have killed all six power plays the Rangers have had and scored on one of their own five power plays: the tying goal by Verhaeghe at 18:09 of the first period Friday.

It was the eighth goal in 13 games this postseason for Verhaeghe, which leads the team. He had seven last postseason. 

Since the start of the 2023 playoffs, Verhaeghe has 15 goals in 34 games. Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (22) and Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk (16) are the only players with more during that span. 

Bobrovsky has stopped 52 of 54 shots in the series.

“They are a really good team and we didn’t expect to win every game,” Verhaeghe said. “They came out strong, but we got the split. We go home and we refocus.”

As a coach, Maurice said he thinks the games could become more open as the series goes on.

“[There is] better skill on both teams than the plays that are being completed,” he said. “I think it’s a bit of a challenge out there right now.”

But as a fan, Maurice said he likes the games so far.

“Two really good goaltenders at each end,” he said, “Like I said, it’s an exciting series, it’s exciting hockey. Lots of hits, lots of action. It’s been great.”

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