Florida Panthers LEVEL the Eastern Conference Finals after dramatic 3-2 overtime win vs the New York Rangers

Sam Reinhart’s power play goal a minute and 12 seconds into overtime of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals evened the series between the Florida Panthers and the New York Rangers.

The series now returns to Madison Square Garden on Thursday night with each team having won two games a piece.

After the Rangers won Games 2 and 3 in overtime, this time it was Florida’s turn to take a victory in extras as Reinhart made it a quick end.

The deciding penalty was caused by Blake Wheeler, who was sent off to the sin bin for hooking.

Sam Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe also scored for Florida, which got 21 saves – and an assist – from Sergei Bobrovsky.

The Florida Panthers have evened the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers

A goal from Sam Reinhart (13) just 1:12 into overtime sealed the deal for the Panthers

 A goal from Sam Reinhart (13) just 1:12 into overtime sealed the deal for the Panthers

Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafrenière scored for the Rangers, and Igor Shesterkin stopped 37 shots.

Game 5 is Thursday in New York, where the teams split the opening two matchups in this series. Game 6 will be Saturday in Sunrise, and the Prince of Wales Trophy – awarded to the East champs – will be in attendance that night.

Bennett got Florida on the board midway through the second period, on a second effort. 

His first shot got past Shesterkin, but not into the net – and Bennett, who followed the shot, managed to get to the puck before anyone else. He knocked it off the back of the goalie’s skate and barely across the goal line.

And 3 1/2 minutes later, Florida had the lead on a pinball goal by Verhaeghe.

Matthew Tkachuk centered the puck from the right corner, and it deflected off Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren’s stick. Airborne, it bounced off Shesterkin, then off Lindgren’s upper body – and Verhaeghe, with more of a baseball swing than anything else, batted it out of the air for a 2-1 Florida edge.

Including playoffs, over the last two seasons, Florida entered Tuesday with an NHL-best record of 81-2-6 in games where it led after 40 minutes.

Lafrenière didn’t care. A neat spin move from Adam Fox got him the puck on the left side of the crease and he tapped it home with 16:32 left for his third goal in the last two games.

Alexis Lafrenière scored the goal that forced overtime in the third period of the contest

Alexis Lafrenière scored the goal that forced overtime in the third period of the contest

The rest of regulation was wild. Back and forth, play more often resembling a 3-on-3 regular season overtime than anything else, going end to end – Bobrovsky making some point-blank stops, Shesterkin once again getting peppered just as he was late in Game 3 to no Florida avail.

And for the third straight game, to OT they went.

Trocheck opened the scoring with a power-play tally, on a play where he won a faceoff, moved into the high slot, waited for a centering pass from Artemi Panarin and ripped a perfect shot – an inch or two past the right side of Bobrovsky’s head, kissing it off the bottom of the crossbar and into the goal.

So, the crossbar giveth on that Rangers power play. It taketh away on the next one, when the game of inches went the Panthers’ way.

New York had Florida reeling later in the first period, when Brandon Montour was in the box for cross-checking. 

Mika Zibanejad was alone on the left side of the crease and shot toward a ton of open net, but the puck hit Bobrovsky’s shoulder, ricocheted up to the crossbar – and this time, bounced back into the crease, just off the goal line as the Panthers remained down only 1-0.

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