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'Unbelievable' Bobrovsky leads Panthers past Rangers in Game 1 of Eastern finals

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) and the Florida Panthers have a 1-0 lead on the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals. File Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) and the Florida Panthers have a 1-0 lead on the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals. File Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

May 23 (UPI) -- Sergei Bobrovsky was a spider spinning outside his web, using what appeared to be extra limbs to deny New York Rangers shots and lead the Florida Panthers to a victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

The Panthers net minder saved all 23 shots he faced in the 3-0 win Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York. Bobrovsky's Panthers held a narrow lead from a first-period Matthew Tkachuk goal before two clinching third-period scores.

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"He's unbelievable," Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov told reporters, when asked about Bobrovsky. "He's an elite goalie in this league. He works so hard every single day.

"I'm not surprised he can do whatever it takes every single night to give us a chance to win the game."

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The Panthers held a 27-23 edge in shots on goal and logged 12 takeaways, compared to just two giveaways in the series opener. Game 2 will be Friday at Madison Square Garden.

"In the postseason, you don't think about the goals or anything," Bobrovsky said. "There is only wins and losses and you focus on one moment at a time and you don't think about anything else.

"It was a great building, great fans and great atmosphere. It's a big win for us."

Defenseman Gustav Forsling and forward Carter Verhaeghe assisted Tkachuk for first blood with 3:34 remaining in the first period.

Verhaeghe started the play by collecting the puck along the left boards in transition. He then sent a pass to Forsling as he slid into the neutral zone. Forsling drifted into a crowd of three defenders before slipping a pass back to Tkachuk.

The Panthers forward stopped the puck before snapping his stick blade for a speedy shot into the right side of the net, beating goalie Igor Shesterkin on his glove side.

Shesterkin and Bobrovsky then tightened up, as did both defenses, not allowing another score for nearly 40 minutes. The Panthers appeared to have ended that drought with about 11:15 remaining, but a score by defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson was disallowed due to goaltender interference.

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The Rangers then launched a shot assault on Bobrovsky, who flailed around the pipes, denying buzzing attempts and scraping up loose pucks to keep the Panthers on top.

The Cats finally got insurance when Verhaeghe intercepted a pass from Shesterkin on the left boards and slid the puck back toward the goaltender.

Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere then hit the puck with his stick before it could reach the goalie, accidentally slipping it between Shesterkin's legs and into his own net with 3:48 remaining.

Forward Sam Bennett scored the final goal of Game 1 after the Rangers pulled Shesterkin, providing an empty net for the Panthers. He took that long-range shot from near the Panthers' blue line.

Tkachuk and Verhaeghe each recorded a goal and assist in the triumph. Bobrovsky, who made four power-play saves, earned his second career playoff shutout. He owns an NHL-best nine wins this postseason and is 38-38 over 76 career playoff starts.

"What's really interesting about Sergei is that I think he is still learning," Panthers coach Paul Maurice said of Bobrovsky. "...I think you have to be a veteran goalie to do what he did tonight, sit for a while and make huge saves, then sense the last 10 minutes of the game. That's where he has to be Sergei."

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The Rangers will host the Panthers in Game 2 at 8 p.m. EDT Friday in New York. Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-seven game series will be Sunday and Tuesday in Sunrise, Fla.

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