Rаngers set tone wіtһ eаrly рһysісаl рlаy іn Gаme 2 vісtory


The start made the end possible.

In the moment, the goal felt like more than merely one goal.

It wasn’t the game-winner. That would come later — off the stick of Rangers uncannily clutch and versatile center Barclay Goodrow at 14:01 of overtime that would send the Garden into a state of utter delirium.

Matt Rempe delivers a hard check on checks Nick Cousins during the Rangers' 2-1 overtime win in Game 2.
Matt Rempe delivers a hard check on checks Nick Cousins during the Rangers’ 2-1 overtime win in Game 2
The Goodrow goal evened this air-tight conference final series 1-1 with a 2-1 Rangers win in Game 2 in front of an anxious and electric capacity Garden crowd.

But it was the Rangers’ first goal that felt like it carried so much weight. It felt so much more significant in a big-picture way than simply one tally on the scoreboard.

The Rangers, as expected down 1-0 in the series, assaulted the Panthers in the opening minutes, getting off to a dream start when they took a 1-0 lead on a Vincent Trocheck goal just 4:12 into the game.

There was a gravity to the goal because it came as a result of the kind of physicality the Rangers completely lacked in Game 1. A tone that was missing in Game 1 was being set in the early minutes of Game 2. The Rangers were fighting back.

The Trocheck goal was made possible by a crunching hit by Alexis Lafreniere on Panthers star Carter Verhaeghe in front of the net. The hit freed up the puck and opened space in front of Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for Trocheck to take an Adam Fox feed and bury it from the back door.

So much happened in that singular play.

The Rangers, who were shut out in Game 1, scored a goal and finally gave the Garden faithful something to cheer about.

Vincent Trocheck scores on Sergei Bobrovsky during the first period of the Rangers' Game 2 win.

Vincent Trocheck scores on Sergei Bobrovsky during the first period of the Rangers’ Game 2 win

And Lafreniere, who was a goat in Game 1 when he scored an own goal and missed several scoring opportunities, was the catalyst to the play with tone-setting physicality.

“That goal was all Laffy,’’ Fox said. “He might not get an assist on it, but if he doesn’t throw that [check], they might be going the other way. Instead, [the puck] got to Troch at the back door. When you get shut out, you want you want to get that first one. You don’t want to let that go too long and get too frustrated. That was really just a massive play there.’’

Rangers captain Jacob Trouba talked about the Rangers being “not happy with our play in Game 1,’’ adding, “That wasn’t our best effort.’’

That was a theme among the Rangers afterward, the disgusting taste they had in their mouths from Game 1 and the determination to right what they did wrong in that game, which was to allow Florida to dictate play.

“There was just more emphasis on bringing out our ‘A’ game,’’ Trocheck said. “We didn’t love the way we played in Game 1, and I thought tonight we came out right out of the jump with more energy.’’

The Rangers would persevere and hold off a confident and unafraid Florida team that entered the night having won five of its six road playoff games (including four in a row) this postseason.

Before the game, the Panthers had a pretty good idea of two things they’d be facing Friday:

—  A desperate, physical onslaught from the Rangers, who were facing their first desperation moment of these playoffs, during which they’d mostly played from the front foot.

—  And Matt Rempe, the Rangers 6-foot-8½-inch, rough-and-tumble rookie who was a healthy scratch in Game 1.

After the Panthers Game 1 victory, coach Paul Maurice said he had “a pretty good idea’’ of what moves Rangers coach Peter Laviolette might make for Game 2. He wouldn’t say what those were. But surely, Rempe’s playing was at least one of them.

Rempe didn’t score the game-winner. In fact, he didn’t score at all. But his presence immediately energized the Garden crowd.

“I thought he had a really good impact,’’ Laviolette said.

Whether Rempe was the difference in the Rangers victory is in the eye of the beholder. The important thing for the Rangers, though, is that they regained the home-ice advantage as the teams head to Florida for Game 3 on Sunday.

Before the game, the Panthers reacted to Rempe’s potentially playing with what amounted to shrugged shoulders — despite the fact that the Rangers are now 21-3-1 with him in the lineup.

“The crowd certainly loves him,’’ Verhaeghe said. “He’s a big, physical player. You’ve got to be aware of him when he’s on the ice. But whatever players they have in their lineup, it’s not going to change our game.’’

At the very least, even if in a small way, it helped change the Rangers’ game.

It helped change the result of the most important game of their season.

It helped change the series.

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