The Boston Bruins still have a bitter taste in their mouth following last year’s first-round matchup. The Florida Panthers developed more bad blood toward the Bruins after Charlie McAvoy delivered an elbow to the head Oliver-Ekman Larsson during their first regular season matchup of 2023-24.
Florida took multiple runs at McAvoy during the first 20 minutes. Ryan Lomberg and Nick Cousins both delivered borderline hits.
The Bruins took exception, making for a chippy Atlantic Division showdown. Amid a sloppy start, they started pushing back against an aggressive Panthers bunch.
A bruising first frame ended with Charlie Coyle delivering a nifty backhanded tally on an outstanding individual effort to give the Bruins the 1-0 lead.
The tensions between the two teams simmered after Derek Forbort and Jonah Gadjovich dropped the gloves 5:16 into the middle stanza.
The Panthers received an initial boost from the bout and evened things up at 1-1 after Anton Lundell tipped Cousins’ shot past Ullmark amid heavy traffic. But the Bruins didn’t waste much time countering Florida’s lone tally.
With some assistance from a diving Ekman-Larsson, a poised Johnny Beecher notched his second goal in as many games to regain Boston’s one-goal lead just 41 seconds after Lundell’s equalizer.
A tenacious shift from Matthew Poitras set Jake DeBrusk up for a hard-nosed net drive en route to his second goal of the season a mere 3:05 after Beecher’s go-ahead tally.
Boston’s aggressive checking and structured defensive setup kept the Panthers in check during the final 20 minutes to secure a 3-1 victory.
Here’s what we learned following Jim Montgomery’s 100th game behind the Bruins’ bench.
Beecher is earning the coaches’ trust
Conventional wisdom suggests the Bruins reached for Beecher when they selected him in the first round of the 2019 Draft. After all, many scouting pundits projected Beecher as a bottom-six forward, and the reports were spot on.
But that doesn’t devalue Beecher’s growth during his time as a prospect. After a season with Providence, the former Michigan Wolverine came into training camp with an opportunity to secure a fourth-line role amid a transitional season in Boston.
Beecher fits the fourth-line mold. His speed and energy provide a perfect compliment to the physical traits of his fellow wingers Jakub Lauko, Oskar Steen and Patrick Brown. But with a healthy veteran presence inside Boston’s locker room, Beecher continues to learn the on and off-ice routines from a reliable core of teammates.
“I’m gaining more confidence as the year goes on,” Beecher told reporters. “The guys have been unbelievable with me and are helping me learn each and every day. It’s a long season. There’s going to be ups and downs. Obviously, we’re having a ton of success, so you can’t really beat that.”
Over time, Beecher gained the trust of the coaching staff to remain on the ice in shutdown minutes. The Bruins trotted Beecher out twice in pivotal faceoff spots during the final five minutes of regulation.
With his father in attendance as part of the dad’s trip, Beecher developed a goal-scoring touch over the last two games. Against Florida, the Elmira, New York native showcased poise and patience to tuck in the go-ahead tally.
Poitras showcases an edge after benching.
He’s showcased good puck habits and a solid net drive over his first 18 games with the Bruins. But for all the flashes of potential, Poitras has also encountered a few roadblocks in his NHL career.
The 2022 second-round selection witnessed another setback during Monday’s tilt in Tampa. Amid a wild back-and-forth final frame, Montgomery kept Poitras on the bench in the last 15 minutes and change of Boston’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Lightning.
Poitras, who entered Wednesday’s tilt with just one assist over the last five games, notched a season-low in time on ice against the Lightning (9:58). After Monday’s tough loss, the Bruins needed more urgency and determination out of their talented, but still raw, middle-six centerman.
“You can put him in situations that are favorable, like offensive zone starts,” Montgomery told the press before Wednesday’s tilt in Sunrise. “But he’s got to kick-start himself.”
Perhaps Lundell’s cross-check to Poitras toward the end of the first period provided a wake-up call of sorts.
Poitras saw his ice time increase to 12:10. While it’s still below his average time on ice per game (14:30), the Ontario-born forward remained engaged amid Wednesday’s chippiness, winning five of six faceoffs and landing a pair of hits.
The Panthers tried to rattle Poitras physically. But the rookie remained composed and earned his stripes the end after winning a puck battle along the walls to set up DeBrusk’s insurance marker.
DeBrusk was finally rewarded for his effort
During his roller-coaster career, DeBrusk faced his share of backlash from a particular portion of the Boston fanbase.
At times, the critiques were warranted whenever DeBrusk entered a slump. Most of the ire reflected during his struggles on his effort on the ice and not his production…or lack thereof.
He overcame the noise, and a public trade request, over the past two seasons. But his start to the 2023-24 campaign wasn’t something anyone envisioned.
DeBrusk entered Wednesday with a goal and five assists in 17 games. Even with the low offensive totals, the 2015 first-round selection settled into a role on Boston’s third line with Poitras and Danton Heinen over the past few weeks.
Unlike his previous plunges, DeBrusk’s effort didn’t need any questioning. He still created a handful of scoring chances — both primary and secondary — with his speed and net-front presence. He remained assertive in puck pursuit, winning his share of battles along the walls and in open ice.
Everything came together for DeBrusk on Wednesday. The Edmonton product showcased his tenacity with his hard drive to Bobrovsky’s crease in the middle frame to snap a seven-game goal drought.
“It was nice to see that go in,” DeBrusk, flanked by his father and former NHLer, Louie, said to the media. “It was a good feeling and a good time to get a goal at that point of the game.”
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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