SUNRISE, Fla. — The Boston Bruins have put themselves into a Game 7 winner take all scenario.
Another night of counters on the scoreboard against the Florida Panthers wasn’t enough. Instead, the Bruins had to overcome another performance involving unforced turnovers, defensive blunders, and replay review.
Now they return to TD Garden with their tail between their legs after dropping two straight.
The Bruins left Linus Ullmark out to dry on multiple occasions, including Matthew Tkachuk’s rebound marker in the first on Connor Clifton’s turnover and on a failed recovery in the defensive end in the second resulting in Aleksander Barakov’s first goal of the series. But the Vezina favorite looked gassed, struggling to track pucks against Florida’s relentless pressure.
Boston’s power play struck twice in the opening 40, on a Tyler Bertuzzi first-period tip and a David Pastrnak highlight reel between the legs tally in the middle frame.
The Bruins appeared prime to take their first lead since Game 4 on Brandon Carlo’s blast. But a successful hand pass review from Paul Maurice resulted in an overturned tally.
The hand pass — or lack thereof — will provide the water cooler discussion entering Game 7. But, once again, the Bruins had a chance to seize control and secure the series.
Bertuzzi and Pastrnak struck again to give the Bruins a 4-3 lead. But the two leads the Bruins generated in the third were short-lived.
Zac Dalpe scored the first of Florida’s two third-period equalizers following another defensive lapse from Boston’s third pair of Clifton and Derek Forbort.
The momentum from Jake DeBrusk’s nifty shorthanded tally only lasted 27 seconds after Tkachuk tucked home his second of the game.
Another night of turnovers officially doomed the Bruins. Eetu Luostarinen put Florida ahead for good with 5:38 left in regulation after Clifton, once again, failed to clear the puck out of Boston’s defensive end.
Here’s what we learned following Boston’s ugly 7-5 loss in Game 6.
The decision to sit Grzelcyk was a head-scratcher
David Krejci’s return led to a more fluid depth chart up front.
If only Jim Montgomery had opted for stability among his defensive pairings.
Inserting Matt Grzelcyk into the lineup for Game 3 paid dividends for a Bruins defensive core that struggled to generate transition up ice. The Bruins provided enough structure in the attacking zone setup without sacrificing their defensive structure.
The turnovers crept up on the Bruins in Game 5 in untimely moments. In Game 6, they became prevalent.
“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 dynamic regarding the unforced errors.
Filling in for Grzelcyk, Clifton began another night of turnovers with his ill-advised outlet feed to nowhere leading to Tkachuk’s first tally.
Despite the frequent miscues, the Bruins didn’t shorten their bench. Clifton was on the ice for three goals against — all at 5-on-5. Forbort was on the ice for two.
It didn’t matter which defensive pairing Montgomery trotted out. The Bruins left the middle of the ice open too frequently. In the end, they earned their result.
Conventional wisdom suggests Grzelcyk will return for Game 7. He’ll likely replace Forbort or Clifton.
The defensive pairings aren’t the only decision(s) ahead for Montgomery and the coaching staff.
“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.”
Will the Bruins ride or die with Ullmark?
Even during his Vezina campaign, the Bruins haven’t trotted out Ullmark for six straight starts all season. Perhaps the wear and tear is finally catching up to him.
Amid a night of turnovers, the Bruins provided enough offensive support for Ullmark to close out the series. And while the D hardly provided any aid, Ullmark hardly looked sharp between the pipes.
At times, Ullmark positioned himself too deep in his net, struggling to cut down angles. He struggled covering the short side post throughout Friday, including on Brandon Montour’s opening marker and Lustorainen’s go-ahead tally.
Both Ullmark and Montgomery downplayed the hefty workload during their postgame media availability. Yet, Boston’s bench boss pondered over inserting Jeremy Swayman for relief duty.
“I think Linus is fine,” Montgomery said. “I looked at him in the eyes a few times when he came back to the bench. And the way his eyes were looking, he looked intense and he looked keen.”
“I felt good all throughout the game,” Ullmark said. “I didn’t feel like it got to me. They had a couple of good shots, and unfortunately, I couldn’t make that extra save.”
As intense and keen as Ullmark may have looked, Montgomery wouldn’t rule out starting a goalie change for Game 7.
Swayman’s only postseason appearance came following Ullmark’s heated exchange with Tkachuk at the end of Game 4. Asking Swayman to make his first start in over two weeks, however, might seem daunting. Yet, given Ullmark’s recent struggles, inserting a fresh Swayman in a must-win Game might be the way to go.
At the very least, the Bruins need to shorten Ullmark’s leash if they decide to ride him to the end.
The Bruins failed to capitalize on their potential momentum-shifting tallies.
Unlike their three equalizers in Game 5, the Bruins established a pair of leads in the third, only to return to square one.
Before that, however, they had to overcome a referee’s discretion following a challenge for a hand pass from DeBrusk prior to Carlo’s second-period tally.
The Panthers quickly pounced on the overturned goal, reclaiming their one-goal lead on Barkov’s first goal of the series.
“To have that go against us and then they score a minute or so later,” DeBrusk said, “it’s a tough two-goal swing there.”
Yet, the Bruins looked poise to enter takeover mode in the third after Bertuzzi and Pastrnak scored a mere 2:22 apart to take their first lead of the night at 3:53 in.
Dalpe responded with Florida’s first equalizer at 7:21. DeBrusk countered with his nifty shorthanded marker at 10:22, only to see that lead vanish on Tkachuk’s second of the night just 27 seconds later.
Even with the lead, the Bruins couldn’t escape chase mode. The Panthers finally sealed their fate and secured their Game 7 trip to Boston on Ristolaninen’s go-ahead marker and Sam Reinhart’s empty-netter.
“The interesting thing is we were behind and we were able to get the lead twice,” Montgomery said. “That’s the disappointing part.”
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