Yet, the Bruins couldn’t escape their own shadow — figuratively and literally.
A fatigued Linus Ullmark played his worst hockey of the season over the last two games. Even so, he hardly received any help from his defensive core.
Boston’s D failed to cover the middle of the ice on multiple occasions. They subjected themselves to costly, ill-advised turnovers. Ullmark struggled to track pucks in the latter half of his most extensive workload of the season.
“I thought it was more of what Florida was doing, and us not winning races to the net and not protecting the slot,” Montgomery said of the unforced errors in Game 6.
The Bruins enter a do-or-die Game 7 with a goalie controversy. Will Jim Montgomery and goalie coach Bob Essensa ride a fatigued Ullmark? And if so, how short of a leash will he have?
Or do the Bruins tab Jeremy Swayman, who hasn’t started in over two weeks and appeared only in mop-up duty in Game 4 following Ullmark’s confrontation with Matthew Tkachuk?
The goalie situation is only one of several lineup decisions facing Montgomery and the coaching staff. And after failing to seize another opportunity to clinch — despite David Pastrnak ending his slump and Tyler Bertuzzi continuing to impress — every Bruin is now under review.
“We’re going to review the game, and we’re going to analyze everybody that played,” Montgomery said. “And if we think there needs to be a change, we’re going to make a change.”
One of the likely changes for Game 7 involves Matt Grzelcyk. The Bruins opted to sit the Charlestown product and inserted Connor Clifton into a third-pair role with Derek Forbort.
Clifton became the poster child of Boston’s night of turnovers in Game 6, beginning with his ill-advised outlet pass in the first period leading to Tkachuk’s first tally. He capped off his woeful outing after failing to clear the puck out of danger during a long shift en route to Eetu Listoraninen’s go-ahead marker with 5:38 left in regulation.
Forbort wasn’t much better, either. The usually reliable stay-at-home blue-liner spent most of his first-round series puck-watching. But even with Boston’s recent penalties kill struggles, Forbort’s shorthanded stability will trump Clifton’s liability to turnovers.
Trent Frederic is another prime candidate for Game 7 duty following healthy scratches in Games 5 and 6. The Bruins opted for Jakub Lauko over Frederic on Wednesday, and David Krejci’s return prompted Frederic back to the press box for Friday.
Depending on the Bruins’ plans for Frederic, the 2016 first-round selection could move to his off-wing on the fourth line for Nick Foligno or keep him at his strong side wing for Garnet Hathaway.
But even the most ideal lineup for Game 7 isn’t immune to the same miscues that haunted the club in their three losses this series.
“Every mistake we had to pay for,” Pastrnak said. “We have to make sure we limit the mistakes in our prep for Game 7.”
While Boston’s depth shined without Bergeron and Krejci, the Bruins endured a stretch with more passengers than anchors. Now they enter Game 7 having dropped two straight for just the third time all season.
They only endured three straight losses once all season. A third consecutive setback on Sunday will end their season. The blowback from the passionate Boston fanbase and the “Everybody Sucks” afternoon drive time shows on 98.5 and WEEI will only intensify if the Bruins bow out in Round 1 following their record-breaking regular season.
If there’s any experience the Bruins can rely on from the regular season, and even earlier in the series, it’s their ability to bounce back after losses. After Game 2, the Bruins outscored the Panthers 10-4 in Games 3 and 4.
But the same mistakes that led to the Game 2 setback caught up to them at the worst possible time.
The Panthers showcased resiliency with their season on the line. And now, the Bruins enter Game 7 under immense pressure.
Boston self-inflicted into a winner-take-all scenario. And as simple as the game plan for Game 7 sounds: limiting turnovers, establishing quicker transition and keeping the front of the crease clean, the Bruins will need to showcase their resiliency and at least ease some tensions before Round 2.
“Disappointing, obviously,” Jake DeBrusk said of the feeling of the Game 6 loss. “We worked all year to get home-ice advantage. It comes up to Game 7. We’re up for elimination now, and it’s one of those things where we have the home crowd behind us. You just look forward, but you have to stay even keel and in the moment. Take what you can from [Game 6] and flush it, and do what you can to win [Game 7].”
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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