FORT LAUDERDALE – The beach or the Big Apple?

It’s time to choose.

In a highly-anticipated matchup between two powerhouse division winners, the Florida Panthers will face off against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final.

The series will kick off with Game 1 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.

"It's a dream," Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk said. "MSG on the road is my favorite rink to play in just because of the history and everything that has to do with the city of New York. It's a great city. They love their sports. It's going to be a great atmosphere.”

Unlike their series wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning (Round 1) and Boston Bruins (Round 2), this latest series doesn’t really come with much history for the Panthers. In fact, they’ve only faced the Rangers one time in the playoffs, losing in Round 1 all the way back in 1997.

This is the second time the Rangers have reached the Eastern Conference Final in the last three seasons, although their last trip to the Stanley Cup Final came in 2014. The Panthers, meanwhile, are just one series away from their second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

“I think when you get into these late stages, that’s kind of where rivalries come from,” Panthers forward Evan Rodrigues said. “It gets more intense. There’s more on the line, a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. The history might not be there, but the intensity will get there I’m sure right from that first puck drop. It’ll be an exciting, fun series."

After winning the Atlantic Division by just one point during the regular season with a record of 52-24-6 (110 points), the Panthers took down the cross-state rival Lightning in just five games in Round 1 and then dispatched the Bruins in six games in Round 2.

Winning the Presidents’ Trophy, the Rangers claimed the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 55-23-4 (114 points). After a four-game sweep of the Washington Capitals in Round 1, they eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes in six games in Round 2.

The Panthers are hunting for their first Stanley Cup, while the Rangers last won in 1994.

“You reinvent yourself every series,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said. “For us to have a chance to beat the Presidents’ Trophy winner, we have to be a better team right now than we were when we started the playoffs. We have to have learned a bunch of things. We’ve had to suffer some defeats and some adversity. We have to be better than we were when we started, and I think we are. That gets tested every round.”


Panthers (1A): 8-3 | 4-1 over Lightning in Round 1; 4-2 over Bruins in Round 2

Rangers (1M): 8-2 | 4-0 over Capitals in Round 1; 4-2 over Hurricanes in Round 2

Offense: FLA: 3.55 GF/GP (3rd); 22.0% PP (8th) | NYR: 3.50 GF/GP (4th); 31.4% PP (3rd)

Defense: FLA: 2.45 GA/GP (5th); 86.1% PK (3rd) | NYR: 2.60 GA/GP (7th); 89.5% PK (2nd)


Panthers: 54.26 CF% (3rd), 56.41 GF% (1st), 50.75 xGF% (8th), 46.11 HDCF% (12th)

Rangers: 45.78 CF% (13th), 51.35 GF% (7th), 47.25 xGF% (12th), 43.98 HDCF% (14th)


Panthers: Matthew Tkachuk (4 goals, 10 assists), Aleksander Barkov (5 goals, 8 assists), Carter Verhaeghe (6 goals, 5 assists), Sam Reinhart (5 goals, 4 assists), Anton Lundell (2 goals, 7 assists)

Rangers: Vincent Trocheck (6 goals, 8 assists), Mika Zibanejad (3 goals, 11 assists), Artemi Panarin (4 goals, 7 assists), Chris Kreider (7 goals, 3 assists), Alexis Lafrenière (4 goals, 6 assists)

Breakdown: It’s a familiar face leading the way for the Rangers. Suiting up in 420 games over parts of seven seasons with the Panthers, Trocheck is tied with Zibanejad for the most points on New York with 14. Over 10 games, he’s recorded six multi-point performances, including posting a goal and an assist in the series-clinching win over Carolina. As for the Panthers, it’s been Barkov, who’s actually the reason Trocheck wears No. 16, leading the charge up front for the Panthers. Second to only Tkachuk with 13 points, the captain has three games with at least three points in the playoffs, including four (two goals, two assists) in a 6-1 win over the Bruins in Game 2 of the second round. In terms of depth, the Panthers get a slight edge, boasting 16 different players with multiple points compared to 13 for the Rangers.


Panthers: Sergei Bobrovsky (8-3, 2.37 GAA, .902 SV%)

Rangers: Igor Shesterkin (8-2, 2.40 GAA, .923 SV%)

Breakdown: After getting past a red-hot Jeremy Swayman in the second round, things won’t get much easier for the Panthers against Shesterkin. The 2022 Vezina Trophy winner has been on top of his game for the Rangers through two rounds, finishing with a save percentage of at least .915% in six of 10 appearances. That being said, his numbers did take a dip toward the end of the team’s second-round series with the Hurricanes as he allowed 10 goals over his last three starts. By comparison, Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and a finalist for the award this season, is trending very well heading into the matchup, surrendering two or fewer goals in each of his last five games. While Shesterkin has seen more overall work in the playoffs, leading Bobrovsky 323-264 in shots faced, Bobrovsky has faced just one fewer high-danger shot attempt, trailing 85-84. When on top of their game, both of these goaltenders are capable of turning the tide in a series.


Panthers: The less special teams, the better. On paper, the Panthers have the advantage against the Rangers at 5-on-5. In addition to controlling 56.09% of all shots on goal, they also lead 22-17 in goals in the playoffs, giving them an NHL-leading 56.41 GF% at 5-on-5. By comparison, the Rangers are outscoring the opposition by a slim 19-18 margin at 5-on-5, including being outscored 13-12 in their second-round series with the Hurricanes. The top pair of Aaron Ekblad and Gustav Forsling has been particularly good for the Panthers at 5-on-5. Despite often being matched up against opposing team’s top lines, the Panthers have led 8-6 in goals and 101-72 in shots on goal when they’ve been deployed in the playoffs.

Rangers: With the Panthers appearing to have the edge at even strength, the Rangers will need to be cooking on their power play. Boasting a 31.4% success rate in the playoffs – the third-best mark in the NHL – the Rangers have scored at least one goal with the extra attacker in six of 10 games, and multiple goals in four of them. That being said, they cooled off a bit toward the end of their series with the Hurricanes. After scoring four power-play goals in the first two games against Carolina, they scored just one in the next four. The Rangers also likely won’t have an easy time against Florida’s penalty kill, which is humming along at 86.1% in the playoffs. If the Panthers can contain New York’s power play, they’ll be set up for success.


It was the Panthers that prevailed during the regular season.

Earning points in all three head-to-head matchups, they went 2-0-1 against New York.

In their first meeting, a third-period goal from Carter Verhaeghe lifted the Panthers to a 4-3 win at Amerant Bank Arena on Dec. 29. In their next matchup, Sam Reinhart scored a pair of goals in the second period to a secure a 4-2 win at Madison Square Garden on March 4.

If you recall, one of those two goals from Reinhart came by way of an incredible assist from Aleksander Barkov.

Reinhart scores on acrobatic pass from Barkov.

Back in the Big Apple for their third and final battle of the regular season on March 23, the Panthers let an early 2-0 lead slip away in a 4-2 shootout loss at Madison Square Garden.

Barkov, Reinhart and Verhaeghe all recorded a team-high five points over the course of the season series with the Rangers, with Reinhart finding the back of the net four times. For the Rangers, Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck led the way up front with four points each.

Starting all three games against New York, Sergei Bobrovsky went 2-0-1 with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. Getting the nod in two of the games for the Rangers, Igor Shesterkin went 1-1-0 with a 2.91 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage.

While the playoffs are a different beast, the Panthers hope they can replicate their regular-season success in this series.

“Another team that we’ve got to play our best hockey against,” Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour said. “I thought we did that throughout the season in tight games. We’ve got to stay on it. Guys will be ready.”


Game 1: Panthers at Rangers | Madison Square Garden | May 22, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)

Game 2: Panthers at Rangers | Madison Square Garden | May 24, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)

Game 3: Rangers at Panthers | Amerant Bank Arena | May 26, 3 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)

Game 4: Rangers at Panthers | Amerant Bank Arena | May 28, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)

*Game 5: Panthers at Rangers | Madison Square Garden | May 30, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)

*Game 6: Rangers at Panthers | Amerant Bank Arena | June 1, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)

*Game 7: Panthers at Rangers | Madison Square Garden | June 3, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)

*If necessary


"Just very, very fast, very talented team, dynamic off the rush. They've got all the spots. They're the best team in the league. They've got the goaltending, forwards and back end are big and strong and the forwards are very skilled." – Paul Maurice

“They were the best team in the regular season for the reason and it’s showing through the playoffs. They’ve got the confidence, obviously, up front. They get to the net hard and in the dirty areas. They obviously have a lot of skill, too. A team you have to play hard all over the ice.” – Brandon Montour

“It's a loud building. We all know that it's a special place to play hockey. I don't think there's anything better than playing against New York right now.” – Niko Mikkola

“We’re really excited about the opportunity and the challenge against the Rangers. They’re the best team in the regular season. It’s going to be a big challenge. They have a lot of good offensive players and, overall, a good lineup. It’s going to be a big challenge, but I think we’re ready for that.” – Aleksander Barkov



Vladimir Tarasenko -- Aleksander Barkov -- Sam Reinhart

Carter Verhaeghe -- Anton Lundell -- Matthew Tkachuk

Eetu Luostarinen -- Sam Bennett -- Evan Rodrigues

Ryan Lomberg -- Kevin Stenlund -- Nick Cousins


Gustav Forsling -- Aaron Ekblad

Niko Mikkola -- Brandon Montour

Oliver Ekman-Larsson -- Dmitry Kulikov


Sergei Bobrovsky

Anthony Stolarz

Scratched: Steven Lorentz, Kyle Okposo, Tobias Bjornfot, Uvis Balinskis, Josh Mahura, Jonah Gadjovich, Spencer Knight, Rasmus Asplund, Mike Benning, Magnus Hellberg, Matt Kiersted, William Lockwood, Mackie Samoskevich, Justin Sourdif



Chris Kreider -- Mika Zibanejad -- Jack Roslovic

Artemi Panarin -- Vincent Trocheck -- Alexis Lafreniere

Filip Chytil -- Alex Wennberg -- Kaapo Kakko

Will Cuylle -- Barclay Goodrow -- Jimmy Vesey


Ryan Lindgren -- Adam Fox

K'Andre Miller -- Jacob Trouba

Erik Gustafsson -- Braden Schneider


Igor Shesterkin

Jonathan Quick

Scratched: Zac Jones, Chad Ruhwedel, Jonny Brodzinski, Adam Edstrom, Matt Rempe, Blake Wheeler