Mika Zibanejad regrets OT turnover as Rangers lose Game 4

Panthers even up series with Rangers after thrilling OT win (3:11)

The Panthers storm back to tie the series with the Rangers after Sam Reinhart's OT winner in Game 4. (3:11)

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Mika Zibanejad knew right away it was a bad pass.

The New York Rangers forward was trying to get a puck to teammate Blake Wheeler early in overtime of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. But Zibanejad's careless toss at the offensive blue line didn't land, and while Wheeler tried to corral the puck, it was poked away by Panthers defenseman Niko Mikkola, who skated toward Aleksander Barkov.

That, in turn, forced Wheeler into committing a penalty against Barkov to prevent Florida's captain from a clean scoring chance on goaltender Igor Shesterkin.

The Panthers earned a power play and Sam Reinhart capitalized seconds later with a one-timer, giving Florida a 3-2 victory and tying the series 2-2 as it turns back to New York.

"It's making decisions," said Zibanejad of the play. "I [saw Wheeler] kind of coming towards me. I think he's open because [forward Will Cuylle] is going to the net, trying to make the play and they poke it and go the other way. I should have probably just made a different play, or decision, but I made the decision there then. I can't change it now. That's sports. I can just come back and try to make another decision next time and hope it goes my way."

There isn't much that has gone right for Zibanejad in the series. He was terrific for New York through its first- and second-round Stanley Cup playoff series, recording three goals and 14 points through 10 games. He recorded zero points in the conference final, same as linemate Chris Kreider -- a troubling issue that New York has been been fortunate to overcome. Until now.

"They're working," coach Peter Laviolette said of Zibanejad's line. "We're spending a little too much time playing defense, especially in the second period. That happened in the last game, too. You're not spending time in the right zone. Those players want to get out of the defensive zone and get in the offensive zone where they can make an impact in the game. There was a spot in Game 3 and a spot here in Game 4 where we didn't get the push we needed out of the period, and it's keeps guys from playing in the zone they want to play in. They're not there."

New York was dominated by Florida in Game 3, getting out-chanced 108-43 in shot attempts but finding a way to win 5-4 in overtime. The Rangers would not be so fortunate in Game 4. Despite New York jumping out to an early 1-0 lead off Vincent Trocheck's marker, Florida roared back in the second period with a pair of goals from Sam Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe, the second on the power play.

Alexis Lafreniere evened the score for New York in the third to get the game to overtime, but the Rangers were still outshot 40-23 overall, and the Panthers made New York pay for its most egregious mistake in the extra frame.

"We have the utmost belief that someone in the locker room is going to get it done," Sam Bennett said of the Panthers' game winner. "Tonight, it was Sam Reinhart."

The fact Wheeler took down Barkov on what looked to be a breakaway attempt might have earned Barkov a penalty shot instead of giving Florida a power play. Coach Paul Maurice said he wasn't sure which decision he preferred -- only that the Panthers' ultimately made the most of their outcome.

"I don't know [what I would have picked]; I really don't know," he said. "But if we hadn't scored, I would have said penalty shot all day long."

Florida's best players came through for them, though. New York needs more of its top talents to start doing the same. Shesterkin was sensational again with a 37-save performance in Game 4, but he can't finish the job alone.

Laviolette altered the Rangers' lineup to try to preserve key players. Filip Chytil was a healthy scratch as he works his way back from a six-month absence for an upper-body injury. That opened the door for Wheeler to step in for the first time since he suffered a gruesome leg injury on Feb. 15.

It was hardly a triumphant return for Wheeler, as he was at the center of New York's overtime penalty trouble. But Laviolette didn't put any blame on the veteran forward for how he reacted to Zibanejad's turnover.

"They got behind us," Laviolette said. "It was a turnover at the offensive blue line, and it was a tough spot for him to be in. There was a lot of heat on him, a lot of pressure. It was more what they did than him doing something. He was surrounded by a couple players. It bounces back the other way, the guys were chasing it down the best they could and ended up having to get a stick on him."

New York will try to regroup for Friday's Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. And Kreider knows what his line has to do in order to help the Rangers get back on top.

"We've got to do a better job of advancing pucks up the ice and establishing an O-zone presence," he said. "A lot of that falls on me. I've got to be able to get in there and win pucks. I've got to get my body on pucks, move my feet and allow us to get up the ice and start rolling."