Brad Penner - USA TODAY Sports

Take Town: Take a knee

Taken as a whole, it's probably more than fair that the Florida Panthers are now up 3-2 on the New York Rangers.

It's not that it's necessarily a bad thing to lean so heavily on your goaltender — at least, if you have one you can really rely on — but in just five games, the Rangers are minus-111 in shot attempts, minus-59 in unblocked shot attempts, minus-42 in shots on goal, and minus-3.33 in expected goals. Which, well, that feels just about right.

Unless they get outrageously good goaltending from Igor Shesterkin, or outrageously bad goaltending from Sergei Bobrovski, the disparity between these teams is really clear. That said, we're also talking about a series with three overtime results and four one-goal games. Even Game 1, which was a 3-0 win but had that fluke own-goal and an empty netter, was close on the scoreboard for the vast majority of it. Combined, this series has seen only 11:40 of either team being up by more than one goal.

If you want to say that's just a case of the Rangers white-knuckling, blocking a ton of shots, counter-attacking, and making great use of special teams (the Rangers have two shorties, after all), I can't argue, but it also doesn't seem like a winning formula.

That said, the Rangers could absolutely win the next two games, because they have the goaltending and the ultra-high talent threshold at the top of the lineup.

The other aspect of all this is that, of course, there has been growing concern about the lack of production from New York's top players, and while I don't think anyone would have pegged that as their possible downfall in this series, I wonder if there's any fallout from Mika Zibanejad or Chris Kreider getting outscored by, like, Barclay Goodrow. With Zibanejad, it really seems like he's got some injury that is seriously hampering him, and at this time of year, I often just chalk poor play from top players at this time of year as some mangling injury they suffered and feel like they have to gut out. People like to act like it's an excuse (ask Elias Pettersson) but it's just the reality that if your wrist or ankle or shoulder is messed up, you're just not going to be as effective. That's life at this time of year, but that's how it goes.

All of which is a long way of saying that while the Rangers have not been good in this series they are still almost neck-and-neck with a Panthers team that looks like it's gonna go to two straight Cup Finals despite these issues. Are they a little like the New York Islanders of a few years ago where they get to the Conference Final (in two fake playoffs, mind you) and then look totally out of their depth? Sure. Are there asterisks on basically every series win they have in the last three playoffs? You bet. But they keep getting this deep because they are finding ways, across two different coaches and three seasons, to maximize the effectiveness of a flawed roster. That's as good as you can reasonably hope for. 

Let’s go:

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NHL Florida Panthers San Jose Sharks NHL Macklin Celebrini Gustav Forsling Will Smith
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