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The Rangers need to find answers quickly against the Panthers, or their Cup wait will reach 31 years

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(AP) — After two rounds of the NHL playoffs, there were hopes the New York Rangers had a chance to end their 30-year Stanley Cup drought.

The defending Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers needed only one game into the third round to give New York a reality check.

The Panthers pretty much had their way in Game 1 on Wednesday night, beating the Rangers 3-0 at Madison Square Garden. They clogged up the middle of the ice, pounded their opponent and limited the Rangers to 24 shots.

Most of those didn’t give goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky much trouble.

The Rangers’ biggest problem was failing to handle Florida’s forecheck, making bad breakout passes out of their zone. They didn’t get their own forecheck established until the third period, and they didn’t convert chances when they had them.

“Can we win (Friday) night?” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday. “I definitely believe we can win (Friday) night. So, that that goes back to us taking care of things today and having some meetings and talking (about) small adjustments and getting getting our game a little bit back in order to what we’re comfortable with and what we’re happy with.”

Another response the Rangers can make is to change the lineup. That could mean putting tough guy Matt Rempe in for Game 2. He loves to mix it up, and the crowd would love it.

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The Rangers need something.

Florida was so good, there was a 14-minute span in the second period during which the Rangers didn’t get a shot on goal.

“On the bench, it didn’t feel like we had the game shut down in any way,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said Thursday.

His big concern is Friday. He noted that after the Panthers’ opening-round win over the Lightning, Tampa Bay came back and played its best game in Game 2. When Florida lost to Boston in the opening game in the second round, the coach said his team had its best showing of the postseason in Game 2.

Maurice expects the Rangers to respond, too.

Rookie forward Will Cuylle said that’s been a team trademark under Laviolette.

“I think throughout the season we’ve showed when a game doesn’t go our way, we’re ready to go the next game,” said Cuylle, who was stopped on a second-period breakaway.

Friday will tell.

While Rempe seems a likely move for Game 2, the Rangers have other options.

They have used Jack Roslovic on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. One move might be to bring back veteran Blake Wheeler, who has been practicing with the team. He has not played since breaking a bone in his right leg Feb. 15.

Laviolette mixed up his lines late in the game and even used Artemi Panarin with the top group for a few shifts.

FOURTH-LINE DECISIONS

The Rangers aren’t the only team that has made changes.

Maurice said he has struggled with his combinations on the fourth line. Eetu Luostarinen and Ryan Lomberg played in the opener. The coach also has used Steven Lorentz and Kyle Okposo there.

Maurice said he makes sure to address the players as a group about his decisions.

PENALTIES KILLED

There were five penalties called in Game 1, and the penalty killers were outstanding. The Rangers killed off all three Panthers power plays, and the Florida did the same on two for New York.

The Rangers are ranked second in the postseason, killing off at 90.2%. Florida is third at 86.8%. Edmonton leads the way at 91.4%.

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