NEW YORK – In the same building that famously hosted “The Fight” between Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali back in 1971, a new epic battle between heavyweights is now set to begin.

Florida Panthers. ... New York Rangers. ... Madison Square Garden.

Ring the bell!

Seemingly on a collision course ever since the playoffs started, the Panthers and Rangers will kick off the Eastern Conference Final with Game 1 at the “World’s Most Famous Arena” on Wednesday.

“I think this time of year no matter where you are the energy’s going to be there,” Panthers forward Sam Reinhart said. “I think you add this environment to it, this location, we’re excited about that.”

Building off last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Panthers defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning (4-1) in Round 1 and Boston Bruins (4-2) in Round 2 to get to the Conference Final.

Fresh off winning the Presidents Trophy, the Rangers made quick work of the Washington Capitals (4-0) in Round 1 and then took down the Carolina Hurricanes (4-2) in Round 2.

The Panthers won the Atlantic Division, while the Rangers were kings of the Metropolitan.

“It’s a great atmosphere,” Panthers forward Vladimir Tarasenko said. “It’s going to be very emotional. It’s very important to stay with the plan and control our emotions.”

Unlike their previous two series, the Panthers don’t have much of a history with New York.

Facing off in the playoffs for just the second time, the Rangers eliminated the Panthers in Round 1 back in 1997. During the 2023-24 regular season, they saw each other three times, with the Panthers coming out on top with a 2-0-1 record.

The Panthers boast the third-ranked offense (3.55 goals per game) and fifth-ranked defense (2.45 goals allowed per game) in the playoffs. Across the ice, the Rangers rank fourth on offense (3.50 goals per game) and seventh on defense (2.60 goals allowed per game).

At 5-on-5, the Panthers have a noticeable edge.

In addition to controlling 56.09% of all shots on goal, they’ve led 22-17 in goals in the playoffs, giving them an NHL-leading 56.41 GF% at 5-on-5. The Rangers, meanwhile, are up just 19-18 in goals at 5-on-5, including being outscored 13-12 against the Hurricanes in Round 2.

Heading into the matchup, much of the talk surrounding the Rangers has been their lethal power play, which ranks third in the playoffs at 31.4%. That being said, they netted just one power-play goal over their final four games against Carolina, going 1-for-10 in that stretch.

Set to be tested, Florida’s penalty kill is operating at 94.7% in the last seven games.

“I think that a timely power play, a timely penalty kill could be the difference in the game tonight,” Reinhart said of the special teams battle. “It’s going to be a big part of it.”

As you’d expect at this stage of the playoffs, both teams are loaded with weapons.

The Panthers are led by Matthew Tkachuk (14 points), Aleksander Barkov (13 points), Carter Verhaeghe (11 points), Reinhart (9 points) and Anton Lundell (9 points). Stepping up in Round 2, Lundell, still just 22, will begin the Conference Final centering the second line.

On the back end, the top pair of Aaron Ekblad and Gustav Forsling has combined for two goals and nine assists, with Forsling scoring the series-clinching goal against the Bruins. When they’ve been deployed at 5-on-5, the Panthers have led 8-6 in goals in the playoffs.

Former Panther Vincent Trocheck is tied with Mika Zibanejad for first on the Rangers with 14 points, while Artemi Panarin (10 points), Chris Kreider (10 points) and Alexis Lafreniere (10 points) aren't too far behind. On the blue line, Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox, who won the Norris Trophy in 2021, have each chipped in four points.

In net, each team also has a goaltender with some hefty hardware.

A two-time Vezina Trophy winner, Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is 8-3 with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage in the playoffs. For the Rangers, Igor Shesterkin, a Vezina Trophy winner in 2022, is 8-2 with a 2.40 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.

Heading into the series on a high note, Bobrovsky has allowed two or fewer goals in six of his last seven starts, posting a 1.88 goals-against average with a .919 save percentage. In the other net, Shesterkin closed out Round 2 by allowing 10 goals over his last three starts.

“Every series is so much different, and every team is so much different,” Reinhart said. “The amount of skill, the amount of firepower, that this team has up front, and some big, solid defenseman and some puck-moving defensemen, they’ve got a good mix. We’ve got to make it uncomfortable on their goalie as much as we can.”

No matter what happens in Game 1, the Panthers plan to learn a lot about New York in the series opener.

“There will be lots of video,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ll try to learn as much as we can tonight. We have an idea of what we look like and what our strengths are. You want to see that tonight. If one of your strengths aren’t there, you’ll ask the question, ‘Why? Is that us or is that them?’ We’ll make our assessments after that.”


Goals: Verhaeghe (6)

Assists: Tkachuk (10)

Points: Tkachuk (14)

Hits: Ekblad, Luostarinen (39)

Blocks: Forsling (18)


Goals: Kreider (7)

Assists: Zibanejad (11)

Points: Trocheck, Zibanejad (14)

Hits: Trouba (37)

Blocks: Trouba (47)


“There’s that nervous energy going into it. You’re kind of excited to see how you’re going to match-up. Playoffs are so much different than the [regular] season, so you never really get an idea. Early on, you can kind of get that sense.” – Sam Reinhart

“It’s Conference Finals. It’s a big stage. It’s why we play hockey, you know, to be here. It’s obviously very exciting.” – Vladimir Tarasenko

“The first game is a great place to learn.” – Paul Maurice


- The Panthers have won each of their last three road playoff games.

- The Panthers haven’t surrendered more than two goals in their last five games.

- Aleksander Barkov tallied at team-high eight points (3G, 5A) in Round 2.

- Anton Lundell has multi-point performances in two of his last three games.

- Matthew Tkachuk leads the Panthers with five multi-point playoff games.



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


- May 6: F Patrick Giles recalled from Charlotte (AHL)


When: Wednesday, May 22 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Madison Square Garden – New York, NY

TV & Streaming: ESPN, ESPN+

Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 92.1 WZZR (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 101.7 WCZR (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM / App & Streaming 932; Panthers App

Watch Party: Baptist Health IcePlex