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Dave Hyde: Florida Panthers show might and muscle to New York in Game 1 win

Well, is there anything more the Florida Panthers could do to introduce their tough and timely brand of postseason hockey to New York?

Go silence Times Square?

Hip-check the Statue of Liberty?

Their 3-0 win over the New York Rangers Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals should come with a trademark for what they do and how they win right down to pressing the Rangers into making a late mistake for an own goal in the final minutes to drop the curtain

If anyone didn’t know the Panthers, if they’ve forgotten from last spring, this was them, America. Speed. Skills. And stars? Matthew Tkachuk made it 1-0 in the first period with a shot over Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin’s shoulder.

That’s all the Panthers needed. They limited the Rangers to five first-period shots and then just three over the final 18 minutes of the second period. The Rangers did have two breakaways and a late flurry of chances in the final minutes, but another star, Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, shut them down.

Finally, if you needed to see their physical play, there was Tkachuk delivering an open-ice tattoo in the opening minutes that flattened Rangers center Vincent Trocheck.

“Anytime I can get a hit, especially early in the series you can’t pass it up,’’ Tkachuk said on ESPN after the first period. “It’s part of our DNA, part of my DNA.”

“How’d it feel?” ESPN’s Emily Kaplan asked.

“It felt like I’m back in a playoff series,’’ Tkachuk said.

That’s who the players are, how they play. Game 1 was a script they’d like to write the full series. And the Rangers?

“We have an idea of what we look like, what our strengths are,’’ coach Paul Maurice said Wednesday before the game. “That’s what you’ll look for. You want to see that. If one of our strengths isn’t there, we’ll ask why. Is it us? Is it them?”

Those questions are left for the Rangers after Wednesday. That’s not unusual, either. The Panthers, remember, lost 5-1 in Game 1 to Boston the previous series. As Maurice said, “Game 1 is a great place to learn.”

Here’s the place the Rangers might start:

“What is their game plan to try to win this series?” Mark Messier said on ESPN after the second period. “I haven’t seen it.”

That’s how well the Panthers’ blueprint worked this night. Madison Square Garden had the energy sucked out of it until the final minutes by the Panthers’ play. The loudest it sounded for much of the game was when a Panthers third-period goal was disallowed on review because of goalie interference against Ryan Lomberg (this Panthers postseason has been a case study in goalie interference, hasn’t it?)

No one is overdoing one game’s impact, even a dominant win like this. All you have to do is look at the only playoff series between these teams in the long-ago of 1997. The Panthers shut down Messier and Wayne Gretzky in the opener.

The score? The same 3-0 as Monday.

The Rangers won the next four games.

That sent the Panthers on a quarter-century tailspin without a post-season series win. Now they’re three wins from back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals. Now they showed New York their speedy and suffocating blueprint to win this series.

One down. Three to go.


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