The fourth win in a series is always the toughest one.
The Florida Panthers proved that theory true with their season on the line Wednesday night against the Boston Bruins. They jumped out to a 1-0 lead after Anthony Duclair capitalized on Tyler Bertuzzi’s head-scratching defensive zone turnover at 8:26 of the opening frame.
Jim Montgomery had to scrap his initial experimental lineup. Among the notable changes: a top-line reunion of Brad Marchand, a returning Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
The Panthers landed a solid opening blow. But the Bruins returned to their roots toward the end of the first, delivering timely hits and stick checks and becoming more assertive in attacking the net against Sergei Bobrovsky.
Eventually, the Bruins landed their counterpunch, with Marchand banking his own rebound on a follow-through to tie Game 5 at 1-1.
Montgomery’s club outplayed the Panthers during a dominant middle 20 filled with quality scoring chances and timely saves from Bobrovsky and Ullmark. But a shaky power-play attempt and an issue clearing the puck out of the defensive zone late in the second put them in another deficit on Sam Bennett’s back-breaking marker.
The Bruins had another response with Bergeron’s tip on Boston’s fourth power play attempt to tie the game at 2-2 early in the third. But they self-inflicted again on the next two shifts, beginning with Jakub Lauko’s ill-timed hooking infraction on the ensuing faceoff.
Sam Reinhart struck on the power play as Boston’s shorthanded unit failed to clear the zone to regain Florida’s one-goal lead.
Taylor Hall continued his impressive series with a slick snipe past Bobrovsky for Boston’s third equalizer. But the Bruins couldn’t close the deal. In overtime, another blunder came back to haunt the Bruins.
A cough-up from Linus Ullmark 6:05 into overtime led directly to Matthew Tkachuk’s overtime winner.
“I tried to send it out into the corner a little bit and bypass him, and he made a good play cashing in,” Ullmark said of the overtime blunder. “The rest is history.”
The Bruins wasted their opportunity to close the series early. They’ll head back to Surnise for Game 6 on Friday, hoping to secure their second-round matchup with Tampa Bay or Toronto.
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s self-inflicted 4-3 loss in Game 5.
Gut-wrenching tallies lead to series extension.
The Bruins never had a lead in Game 5. But they had the Panthers on the ropes on several occasions.
After a rough first period, the Bruins eventually found their groove as Montgomery continued to mix up his lines. No matter which trio hopped on the ice, the Bruins dominated the Panthers at five-on-five. But mixed results on the power play, along with ill-timed turnovers and some struggles clearing the puck out of danger during lengthy shifts prevented Boston from advancing.
Amid Boston’s relentless pressure, Bobrovsky provided flashbacks of his days in Columbus. The fourth-year Florida netminder remained calm, delivering 43 saves, including a clutch stop on Marchand’s breakaway attempt in the closing seconds of regulation.
The desperate Panthers remained opportunistic, pouncing on a sleepy Bruins team during the opening 20. In the end, they took advantage of one more mistake from Ullmark to extend the series.
“There’s going to be adversity in the series. It’s always hard to close it out. The team’s going to play for their lives and their season,” Ullmark said.
“We’ve got to be better for the next one and start on time. That’s including me, I’m guilty of that as well. It’s a new day tomorrow.”
Bruins encountering unusual lulls on home ice
Given the intense nature of playoff hockey, home-ice advantage should mean a little more on paper. But over the last few decades, the host teams throughout the postseason seem to struggle at times performing in front of their own fanbase.
Through the first five games of the series, the Bruins have only won once at TD Garden. Yet, they’re an entirely different team in Florida.
Even Bergeron’s two-way stability couldn’t help the Bruins overcome their latest round of blunders on Causeway Street. Another slow start on Garden ice put the Bruins in chase mode. The head-scratching turnover from Bertuzzi on Duclair’s tally, an ill-timed penalty by Lauko before Reinhart’s power-play marker, and Ullmark’s blunder on Tkachuk’s overtime winner highlighted Boston’s night of lulls on Garden ice.
“We tend to make big mistakes right now. I don’t know why,” Montgomery said of the home ice disadvantage. “When you’re chasing the game like we did all night, one to zero, one to one, two to one, two to two, three to two, three to three, and then obviously you can’t chase the game anymore, you spend a lot of energy. I thought the energy that we spent in the second and the third trying to tie the game up. I didn’t think we were as sharp in overtime.”
The Bruins encountered similar blunders during their worst performance of the series in Game 2. They responded well when the series shifted to South Florida, earning a pair of victories without their top two centers.
This time, they’ll have Bergeron joining them for another chance to clinch their series. Yet, the Bruins will need their peak performance in their second attempt to stave off the desperate Panthers.
“We didn’t have our jump in the first period. I’m not sure why,” Hall said. “We’re a confident team. I think if we start on time, it’s gonna give us our best chance with coming out with the series. It’s gonna take our best effort.”
Pastrnak is being held in check
Without Bergeron and Krejci, the Panthers turned their attention to limiting Pastrnak’s creative playmaking skillset. Through five games, they’ve held the league’s second-leading scorer to just two goals.
Boston’s depth chipped while Florida’s D kept Pastrnak in check. And in Game 5, on a night where the Bruins fired 47 shots at Sergei Bobrovsky, Pastrnak only accounted for four shots on goal.
No matter where Montgomery slotted Pastrnak on a night of several lineup changes, the 2014 first-round selection looked a step off from his usual self. And Pastrnak’s knack for turnovers continued on Wednesday, accounting for three giveaways.
Of course, there’s a give and take with Pastrnak’s turnovers. Pastrnak can make up for any miscue — self-inflicted or otherwise — whenever he touches the puck.
Given Pastrnak’s talent, Montgomery doesn’t believe Pastrnak will remain down for long. The Bruins could certainly use that bounce-back effort from Pastrnak in their final trip to Sunrise of the season Friday night.
“You know, the puck’s not going in for him right now,” Montgomery said of Pastrnak. “It’s just a matter of time.”
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