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Mika Zibanejad Laments OT Turnover In Rangers’ Game 4 Defeat

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Mika Zibanejad immediately recognized his mistake.

The New York Rangers forward attempted a pass to teammate Blake Wheeler early in overtime of Game 4 in the Eastern Conference finals against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. However, Zibanejad’s inaccurate pass at the offensive blue line went astray. Wheeler tried to recover the puck, but Panthers defenseman Niko Mikkola intercepted it and directed it to Aleksander Barkov.

This sequence forced Wheeler to commit a penalty against Barkov to prevent a clear scoring opportunity on goaltender Igor Shesterkin.

The Panthers capitalized on the ensuing power play when Sam Reinhart scored with a one-timer, leading to a 3-2 victory for Florida. This win tied the series 2-2 as it heads back to New York.

Zibanejad has struggled in this series, despite excelling in the earlier rounds of the playoffs with three goals and 14 points in 10 games. Alongside linemate Chris Kreider, who has also been scoreless in the conference final, their lack of production has become a significant issue for the Rangers.

In Game 3, New York was heavily outplayed by Florida, being out-chanced 108-43 in shot attempts but still managed to secure a 5-4 overtime win. However, in Game 4, despite taking an early 1-0 lead through Vincent Trocheck, Florida responded with second-period goals from Sam Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe, the latter on a power play.

Alexis Lafreniere tied the game for New York in the third period, pushing the game into overtime. However, the Rangers were outshot 40-23 overall, and their costly mistake in overtime led to Florida’s victory.

Wheeler’s penalty on Barkov could have resulted in a penalty shot but instead gave Florida a power play. Coach Paul Maurice stated he was indifferent about the decision, only that the Panthers made the most of their opportunity.

Florida’s top players delivered when it mattered, and New York’s stars need to do the same. Shesterkin was outstanding with 37 saves in Game 4, but he can’t carry the team alone.

Coach Laviolette adjusted the Rangers’ lineup to protect key players, with Filip Chytil being a healthy scratch as he recovers from a long-term upper-body injury. This allowed Wheeler to return to the lineup after suffering a severe leg injury on February 15.

Despite being involved in the critical overtime penalty, Wheeler wasn’t blamed by Laviolette for his reaction to Zibanejad’s turnover.

New York will look to regroup for Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Friday. Kreider emphasized the need for his line to step up and help the Rangers regain the lead in the series.

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