What we learned: Bruins squander opportunity in loss to Panthers
“Tonight’s game has purpose to Florida – and the Bruins,” NESN analyst Billy Jaffe said pregame about Thursday’s final road game against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center. The Panthers, though 12-2-0 in their last 14 at home, were facing playoff elimination four points behind Philadelphia.
For Boston, Thursday marked Game No. 80, keeping them even with Tampa Bay after Tuesday’s 4-0 loss. A win would have put the Black and Gold back above the Lightning and in total control for best in the Eastern Conference.
“Big game after that last one,” Jaffe said about the Bruins. “Playoff game for Florida,” his fellow analyst Andy Brickley added about Florida’s plight.
Here’s what we learned as Bruce Cassidy’s boys extended their losing streak to three for the first time since mid-November in a 3-2 defeat — and lost an opportunity to reclaim top dog in the East.
Bruins respond to Florida’s 2-0 start
The last time Boston visited Florida on March 15, the latter handed the Bruins their second shutout of the season, 3-0. One major reason was the play of the Panthers’ first line.
“Tic, tac, goal,” NESN’s Jack Edwards bellowed 7:36 into the game, referencing a perfect tip-in by Florida’s leading scorer, Aleksander Barkov. Former Bruin Frank Vatrano scored his 6th of season and 4th with the Panthers 1:52 later to put his team up 2-0.
The Bruins’ power play unit then netted a seventh goal in their last six games, when Ryan Donato jumped on a loose puck at 15:19 with both Brad Marchand and Torey Krug assisting for career highs of 51 and 44, respectively. Marchand happened to be playing in his 600th NHL game.
“Panthers playing with more jump and more urgency,” Edwards said after 20.
“The Bruins need to pick up the intensity in the second,” followed Jaffe.
That they did.
At 2:11, Danton Heinen fired a short-side wrister past Florida goalie Roberto Luongo, with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci assisting, for the only goal of the middle frame. “He seems to have broken through that rookie wall,” Edwards said after Heinen’s 15th of the season.
Must-win third period for Florida
“It’s an elimination game for Florida,” Edwards proclaimed midway through the final stanza after announcing a Flyers win over Carolina. “Florida must get two points.”
Jared McCann tipped his ninth goal of the season home at 14:23 for a 3-2 Panthers lead. In a frantic finish, Rask held serve on a Nick Bjugstad clean breakaway with five minutes left; ditto on Vincent Trocheck 30 ticks later. And Luongo survived the Bruins’ 6-on-5 with Rask out in the final two minutes.
“I thought they [the Panthers] were better on the puck,” Cassidy told Edwards and Brickley after. “We had our moments to get back in the game; we always do. But it’s about formula. When you get behind, as we have in all three games this road trip, we got one point. It’s a bad formula in this league to expect to play from behind and get points.”
History in each net – and on Florida D
Roberto Luongo started his 1000th regular-season game Thursday for Florida, the third goaltender in NHL history to reach that mark — only Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy have started more. Luongo was in goal for seven more in the post season with Vancouver in 2011, when the B’s bested the Canucks and him, 4 games to 3, for the Stanley Cup.
“He will find his way to the Hall of Fame,” Jaffe said about Luongo’s long career.
At the other end, Tuukka Rask came in to Thursday evening with a 1.46 GAA and a 21-3-1 career slate against Florida — his best against any team in the NHL. Thursday marked Rask’s 52nd start to keep him ready for a hopefully long playoff run. His 4-1-0 record and 2.00 GAA in his last five starts were blemished with Tuesday’s loss to the Lightning, however.
“Tuukka gave us a chance to win,” Cassidy told NESN about his goaltender’s 32 stops off 35 shots.
A side note to some informal NHL history is Massachusetts native and Florida defenseman Keith Yandle, who played his 714th consecutive game on Thursday – longest in the NHL. That’s the equivalent of some eight and a half consecutive seasons without missing a game.
“Florida still has a heartbeat,” Edwards announced after the 3-2 result.
And Boston does, too.
Each team has two games left. For Florida, that equals two must-wins and a Philadelphia loss in regulation of their final game to take the last remaining wildcard.
Tampa regained the top spot in the conference with the Bruins’ loss. If the former wins in either regulation or overtime in their last two games, they end with more “ROW’s” – regulation and overtime wins being the first playoff tiebreaker — than Boston, regardless of the Bruins’ outcomes against Ottawa and Florida.
“We’re playing against hungry teams every night,” Cassidy said postgame. “Their will to win is tremendous right now. We need to match that.”