SUNRISE, Fla. — The Boston Bruins will return home with Patrice Bergeron reportedly on the mend for Game 5.
With or without Bergeron — and likely without David Krejci — they’ll have a chance to close out their first-round series against the Florida Panthers on Garden ice.
The Bruins had to withstand an opening push against the desperate Panthers. Without their top defenseman in Aaron Ekblad and one of their skilled playmakers in Anthony Duclair, the Panthers delivered numerous quality looks on Linus Ullmark, firing 11 of their 15 first-period shots on net within the first 10 minutes.
The Bruins took Florida’s first punch. Then they delivered a blow of their own with Brad Marchand’s power play marker on a net-front scrum in front of Sergei Bobrovsky.
The timely goals and assertive checking performances continued, with Charlie McAvoy delivering a thunderous open-ice hit on Matthew Tkachuk during Florida’s first power play attempt.
The Bruins struck again on the power play early in the second following Tkachuk’s ill-advised cross-check at the end of the first. Jake DeBrusk, who missed a chunk of the first period after taking a puck to the helmet from a Taylor Hall feed, returned to tap in a stellar dish from Dmitry Orlov to give the Bruins the 2-0 lead.
The Panthers had another pushback in them and cut Boston’s lead in half on Tkachuk’s between-the-legs tuck-in with 4:00 remaining in the middle frame.
Jim Montgomery made some lineup adjustments in the third. The new-look lineup provided the last round of counterpunched for the final 20.
Tyler Bertuzzi provided another insurance marker 2:26 into the third, tipping Brandon Carlo’s shot past Bobrovsky.
DeBrusk then countered Sam Bennett’s power play tally to extend Boston’s lead to 4-2 with his second of the game.
A nifty breakaway marker from Taylor Hall and his subsequent empty-net tally and a contentious exchange involving Linus Ullmark and Tkachuk capped off Boston’s 6-2 win in Game 5.
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Tkachuk continued with his villainous track record.
The Panthers thrive off Tkachuk’s knack for providing an emotional spark at any moment. And surely, he’s lived up to expectations in his first season in Florida, providing a Hart finalist-caliber campaign.
At times, his emotions get the better of him. The dark side of Tkachuk came to fruition on Sunday, beginning with his ill-advised cross-check to Hathaway’s ribs.
“That’s pretty tough to see who it is [initially]. But there’s video, so I was able to see it,” Hathaway said of Tkahcuk’s cross-check. “There’s stuff that happens…it’s part of the game, I guess.”
Tkachuk scored his second goal of the series to cut Boston’s lead to 2-1. But another cross-check on Tomas Nosek at the end of the middle 20, and a head-scratching decision to attack Ullmark in front of his crease with the game out of reach cemented his villainous status.
“As a goalie, you’re just expected to stop pucks. And you’re not expected to take stick work, and someone coming after you,” Montgomery said of the Ullmark-Tkachuk incident. “We stick together, and we stuck together. I’m really proud of our group for how we stuck together.”
Tkachuk tried to rattle the Bruins throughout the series. Boston’s battle-tested bunch hardly took the bait through the first four games.
The former Calgary Flame ended Sunday with six shots on net and 14 penalty minutes during his 19:41 time on ice.
Bruins continue to ride the Ullmark wave.
Montgomery hinted at a potential swap involving Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman during Saturday’s media availability.
The theory: Ullmark had been nicked up a bit through the first three games. And a potential start in Game 4 would’ve resulted in his first stretch of four straight starts since early November.
As usual, Montgomery consulted with goalie coach Bob Esennsa. After he met with Ullmark and Swayman, the Bruins turned to the former for Sunday’s matinee.
“Linus has played well, and Bob had his goalie union, and they decided that’s what was best for the Boston Bruins,” Montgomery said during his pregame press conference on Sunday. “I have a lot of confidence in Goalie Bob. His feel for his goaltenders is outstanding, and I never second guess.”
Even as Ullmark winced at certain moments — especially after Bennett’s power-play marker to snap Boston’s run of nine straight kills — the decision paid dividends.
Ullmark once again delivered timely saves — 41 in all — en route to his third career postseason win.
Ullmark’s exchange with Tkachuk late in the third period ended his afternoon. The Swede received a misconduct, paving the way for Swayman’s relief appearance.
But he left the ice knowing he had to take matters into his own hands. And just as the Bruins have stuck up for each other in heated exchanges, Ullmark did the same in front of his crowded crease.
“There’s gotta be something in the goalie water bottles this year. They all want to be in the mix this year,” Marchand said. “I just think emotions run high this time of year. We’ve always had the mentality of sticking up for one another, and that’s just another great example of that.”
The Bruins played their best two games of the series without Bergeron and Krejci.
Injuries and general wear and tear increases as the playoffs progress. The Bruins and Panthers both attest to that theory.
Montgomery’s bunch played the second game in a row without their top two centermen. Conversely, the Panthers entered Sunday without their Ekblad and Duclair.
Boston’s impeccable depth, however, allowed them to absorb the absences of Krejci and Bergeron. And after a shaky two games at TD Garden, the Bruins shifted momentum in their direction following their pair of wins in South Florida.
“Throughout the entire year, you’ve had different guys step up at different times,” Carlo said of Boston’s depth. “For the past two games [we’ve had] big games from [Charlie] Coyle and Hallsy [Hall] and Bert [Bertuzzi] and a lot of different guys. So, I think we’re just trying to keep the same mentality that we’ve been going with the entire year. The next-man-up mentality is working well for us.”
Without Bergeron and Krejci, the Bruins outscored the Panthers 10-4. They received a point from nine different players, including a secondary assist from Ullmark on Hall’s empty-netter on Sunday.
Between Coyle’s seamless interim transition to top-line duty, and timely goals from the likes of Hall, DeBrusk, Marchand, Bertuzzi and David Pastrnak (in Game 3), the Bruins are now in prime position for a Round 2 matchup with the Maple Leafs or Lightning.
With Bergeron more likely to return than Krejci for Game 5, they may have at least one reinforcement available for their series-clinching scenario on Wednesday. But the Bruins know they’ll have to perform even better as the scrappy Panthers enter TD Garden with their season on the line.
“We’re not getting too excited or down or anything,” Carlo added. “We’re just focusing on the mission.”
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