NEW YORK – Everything went according to plan.

Stealing home-ice advantage, the Florida Panthers opened the Eastern Conference Final with a huge 3-0 win over the New York Rangers in Game 1 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

“It’s 1-0 now. We’re exactly where we wanted to be before the game,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “It was a good effort by us. I think we can build on this.”

Earning the second shutout of his playoff career, Sergei Bobrovsky, surrendering fewer than two goals for the seventh time in his last eight appearances, stopped all 24 shots he faced.

“In the postseason, you don’t think about the goals or anything,” said the always-stoic Bobrovsky, who made six high-danger stops in the win. “There’s only wins and losses. That’s it. You focus on one moment at a time and you don’t think about anything else.”

Coming out with a head full of steam, Matthew Tkachuk set the tone early for the Panthers with a couple hits, including laying out Vincent Trocheck with a big check in the offensive zone.

From throwing hits to touching twine, Tkachuk continued to lead the charge when he took a drop pass from Gustav Forsling and beat Igor Shesterkin with a shot from the top of the left circle to break the ice and put the Panthers up 1-0 at 16:26 of the first period.

Tkachuk makes it 1-0 in the first period.

During the first intermission, Tkachuk told ESPN that big hits are “part of our DNA.”

“It started with his big hit in the first and then a big goal,” Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe said of Tkachuk’s impact. “It definitely got us going. It took a lot of momentum out of their sails. Any time you’re on the road and get the first goal, you take the crowd out of it a little bit. Playing with the lead, it kind of lets us settle down into our game a little bit."

In the second period, Bobrovsky came up in the clutch.

Less than a minute into the period, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner kept the lead intact for the Panthers when he kicked out a shot from Will Cuylle on a breakaway opportunity.

From there, the Panthers played their patented brand of suffocating hockey.

For nearly 15 minutes, the Rangers didn’t register a single shot on goal.

Closing out the second period with another crucial stop while on the penalty kill, Bobrovsky slid from left to right to just get a piece of a one-timer from a Mika Zibanejad with a second left on the clock.

“He’s been unbelievable all playoffs,” Verhaeghe said of his all-world goaltender. “I can’t say enough about him. He works so hard. To have him back there, we just have so much confidence. We’re just trying to play as hard [on defense] as we can. When we need him, he always comes up big.”

Just before the 10-minute mark of the third period, the Panthers thought they doubled their lead to 2-0 when Oliver Ekman-Larsson beat Shesterkin with a shot from the left circle. But after a challenge by New York, the goal came off the board due to goaltender interference.

Here’s the official statement on the play from the NHL’s Situation Room: “Video review determined that Florida’s Ryan Lomberg entered the crease and made incidental contact with New York’s Igor Shesterkin, impairing his ability to play his position.”

“I thought it was right because it’s the call I would want on Sergei,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said of the ruling.

Following a late penalty for too many men on the ice, the Panthers came up with their second key penalty kill of the game. During the kill, the Rangers fired off just two shots on goal and cracked another off the post as both Bobrovsky and the killers in front of him stood tall.

With the Rangers operating at over 30% on the power play entering the series, the Panthers, up to the task as always, surrendered just four shots on goal across their two penalty kills.

“We want to work as hard as possible,” Barkov said of the team’s defensive effort in the hard-fought win. “We want to keep the game simple and be as good defensively as possible.”

Not long after that successful penalty kill, the Panthers were rewarded with some good fortune when a cross-ice pass from Verhaeghe was poked by Rangers forward Alexis Lafrenière in the slot straight past Shesterkin for an own-goal that made it 2-0 at 16:12.

Verhaeghe makes it 2-0 late in the third.

With 1:19 left, Sam Bennett extended the lead to 3-0 with an empty-net goal.

“All in all, happy with how it went,” Tkachuk said. “A lot of things we can get better at, but you never complain about a win, especially in playoffs. On to Game 2.”


“He (Sergei Bobrovsky) made some huge saves. Obviously in the second period, that one save at the end, and in the third period we obviously needed some help from him. He was there, as always. He’s an unreal goalie and we’re lucky to have him.” – Aleksander Barkov

“I think that’s what playoffs in general is kind of about, but especially early on in series, early on in games, just trying to be physical. I thought, myself and the rest of us, kind of got away from it in the second [period], but then we came back in the third with the same effort.” – Matthew Tkachuk

“All of these games are so close. The score almost doesn’t tell you anything. It’s a turn of a puck. It’s a puck that we block that they didn’t or a pass that we made. It’s two or three and that’s the difference.” – Paul Maurice

“It’s one game. There’s lots of hockey ahead of us. It’s a great way to start.” – Sergei Bobrovsky


- Sergei Bobrovsky improved to 8-1 in his playoff career against Presidents’ Trophy winners.

- The Panthers improved to 5-0 when leading after two periods in this year’s playoffs.

- Aleksander Barkov went 11-for-18 (61.1%) in the faceoffs circle.

- Ryan Lomberg recorded a team-high five hits.

- Sam Reinhart blocked a team-high three shots.

- Matthew Tkachuk recorded his 13th career multi-point playoff game as a Panther.

- The Panthers led 23-18 in scoring chances at 5-on-5, per


One win down, three to go.

With one more game in the Big Apple before heading back to South Florida for Games 3 and 4, the Panthers will battle the Rangers in Game 2 at Madison Square Garden on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.

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