An ugly defensive performance by the Boston Bruins saw them drop the second game of their first-round series against the Florida Panthers, evening up the series at 1-1 as it heads to South Florida.
“The turnovers we had tonight were catastrophic,” Jim Montgomery said following the loss.
Linus Ullmark was hardly the issue, but he couldn’t continually bail out his teammates like he has so many times this season. The Vezina Trophy favorite allowed a season-high five goals on 30 shots faced.
After a relatively choppy first period, the Panthers got on the board first. Sam Bennett capitalized off the Bruins’ turnover-filled shift to open the scoring.
Brad Marchand did his best to drag the Bruins back into the fight, tying the contest at 1-1 on a shorthanded tally created from Tomas Nosek’s forecheck on Anthony Duclair.
The Panthers answered back just 2:05 later as Eric Staal buried a wrister past Ullmark after the Bruins gave him ample time to skate into the high slot.
The Bruins continued to use special teams to their advantage late in the second period, once again providing a counter to Florida’s even-strength tally. Once again, Tyler Bertuzzi found success at the front of the net on the man advantage, deflecting in Pavel Zacha’s shot from the right circle to even things up at 2-2 heading into the second intermission.
Florida re-established its lead just 22 seconds into the third after Brandon Montour’s point shot surprised Ullmark for the go-ahead marker.
Boston’s sloppy defensive play continued to kill them in the third. Carter Verhaeghe provided an insurance marker, capitalizing on another defensive zone turnover by the Bruins.
“They were a little hungrier than us in a way,” Hampus Lindholm said. “I think we just have to clean that up.”
Montour lit the lamp once again from the point, making it a 5-2 contest. Eetu Luostarinen added an empty netter to round out the six-pack.
Taylor Hall got one back to cut the deficit to three, but it was too little too late for Boston.
‘Catastrophic’ defensive zone turnovers buried the Bruins.
The Bruins’ puck management was not particularly sharp in the first period. The Panthers heavily pressured Boston in the defensive and neutral zones. If not for Ullmark, egregious turnovers from Hall and Bertuzzi would have set the Bruins back much earlier.
Boston’s sloppy play caught up to them early in the second. Brandon Carlo failed to clear the puck out of the defensive zone, leading to Bennett’s first of the series.
The Garden remained silent until Marchand’s tally, but the Bruins’ frustrations lasted all night.
The Black and Gold possessed the puck well enough in the offensive zone but couldn’t overcome their Achilles’ Heel: turnovers.
“It’s five guys working together [on the breakout]. It’s not just the defenseman,” Montgomery said. “We believe in being a five-man unit in every zone…in the third period, our game got away from us.”
Another defensive zone turnover, this time from Charlie McAvoy, led to Verhaeghe’s eventual game-winner.
A playoff series is one of constant adjustments, ones Montgomery’s squad sorely needs heading into Game 3 Friday night.
“Every team, you know, poses a challenge with their forecheck,” McAvoy said. “It’s up to us to just make better plays.”
Marchand provided the lone emotional spark.
Down a goal midway through the second, the Bruins showcased little physical or emotional energy.
Even in Patrice Bergeron’s absence, Marchand wouldn’t be denied. The veteran acted like a dog on the bone on the shift that immediately followed the Panthers’ opening tally.
It wasn’t until his next shift when Boston’s best skater from Wednesday night finally lit the lamp. The surrogate captain’s shorthanded tally electrified the Causeway Street crowd and re-energized the Bruins’ bench.
“We tied it up there and we were feeling better about our game,” Marchand said. “I think when we’re good it’s when we continue to stick to the process, and we just got away from it a little bit.”
Ruled as “day-to-day” by Montgomery on Wednesday morning, Bergeron’s status is still in flux for the rest of the series. With his stellar two-way traits and reliable leadership on and off the ice, Bergeron’s presence is not something just one person can replicate.
Outside of Marchand, very few Bruins provided an emotional response to compensate for Bergeron’s absence.
“When we fell down 4-2, I didn’t think we regrouped and reset,” Montgomery said. “Most of the year, we’ve been able to take a breath, reset and go back to our game.”
The second line provided little pushback.
Throughout the season, the Bruins deserved high praise for their immense depth. In Game 2, though, Boston’s middle six showed very little.
The second line of Bertuzzi, David Krejci and David Pastrnak had a particularly rough outing. The trio was on the ice for two goals against and were outshot 2-12 at five-on-five play. Montgomery searched for a spark with different variations within the top nine, but the Bruins couldn’t find that spark to muster a comeback.
“I thought that once we got frustrated, we kind of tried to get individual instead of using our structure,” Montgomery said. “It was us trying to make plays when plays weren’t there to be made.”
Of the few criticisms against Pastrnak, the winger’s propensity for turnovers remains a valid concern. This development doesn’t bode well for the 60-goal scorer as costly mistakes continue to trend in the wrong direction for the Bruins.
Whenever Bergeron returns, it will cause an inevitable disruption to Boston’s forward lines. Regardless of Bergeron’s status, it seems that changes are imminent to the Bruins’ lineup come Friday night.
“I think [the loss] gives me pause to think about changes everywhere,” Montgomery said.
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