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Panthers get Bobrovsky shutout, take early lead in Eastern Conference finals with road win over Rangers

The Panthers drew first blood in what is expected to be a tight Eastern Conference final series.

Florida star Matthew Tkachuk scored a first-period goal, and that proved to be enough Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. The Panthers went on to win 3-0 over the Rangers, taking a 1-0 series lead.

Tkachuk had a relatively quiet second round against Boston, but he started the conference finals with the Rangers with a bang. The star forward got a pass from defenseman Gustav Forsling and fired it past the Rangers’ star goalie, Igor Shesterkin, for the game’s first goal late in the first period.

That lone goal held up through the third period despite frantic attempts by the Rangers to even the score.

The Panthers appeared to get some insurance with 11:15 left in the third period. Oliver Ekman-Larsson got a shot past Shesterkin, but New York challenged the goal, and the score was taken off the board due to goalie interference on Florida forward Ryan Lomberg.

However, the Rangers hurt their own cause as forward Alexis Lafrenière accidentally deflected a puck past his own goalie, giving the Panthers a 2-0 edge. Panthers center Carter Verhaeghe got credit for the goal — his seventh of the postseason.

Panthers center Sam Bennett sealed the win, scoring on an empty net late in the third period.

Bobrovsky continued his strong playoff performance, making all 23 of his save attempts and stopping multiple Rangers breakaways. New York received excellent opportunities with about seven minutes left in the third period, but the Rangers still could not get on the board.

“It’s a special place. It’s a special building,” Bobrovsky said of Madison Square Garden in a postgame interview with ESPN. “And it’s even more special to get the win here.”

The Panthers defense was excellent, allowing just 12 shots through the first two periods. New York ended the game with 23 shots.

Shesterkin, a former Vezina Trophy winner, nearly matched Bobrovsky save for save, keeping New York in the game with crucial saves — including one on a Barkov shot from point-blank range.

The series continues with Game 2 on Friday at 8 p.m. in New York.

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