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  • Takeaways: Bruins stand their ground in statement win over Panthers

    Tim Rosenthal March 26, 2024

    SUNRISE, Fla. — In a results-oriented business, sustaining positive outcomes late in a regular season usually tops any to-do list.

    For the top teams in hockey, however, their place in the final standings isn’t necessarily the No. 1 priority. Instead, the focus shifts to fine-tuning their performance and accustoming themselves to the playoff grind.

    Heading into Tuesday’s matchup with the Florida Panthers — with first place in the Atlantic Division up for grabs — the Boston Bruins were far from showing the masses that they’re ready.

    Eventually, Jim Montgomery got fed up. After a pair of uninspiring losses to the Rangers and Flyers, the second-year bench boss tore into his team through expletives and end-to-end sprints during Monday’s sluggish practice.

    Knowing that Monday’s on-ice session didn’t sit well, the transitional Bruins had every incentive to respond with a solid statement amid their challenging year-end slate. 

    Physically, the Bruins were up to the challenge. But it took them a little longer to gain the edge on the scoreboard.

    The Bruins endured another round of loose net-front coverage in the first, leading to Evan Rodrigues and Sam Reinhart’s tallies. They fell behind again in the final 20 after Carter Verhagehe scored off the rush to give the Panthers their third lead of the night.

    Within the heated tensions, the Bruins worked their way to a trio of equalizers behind Charlie McAvoy’s first-period blast, David Pastrnak’s nifty second-period tally along the crease and Trent Frederic’s third-period one-timer from one knee.

    Eventually, Boston’s perseverance paid off.

    Pavel Zacha completed a brilliant setup from David Pastrnak to put his team ahead for good with 4:22 remaining in regulation.

    The Bruins held the Panthers to six shots on net in the final 20 but needed a timely save from Jeremy Swayman in the closing seconds to secure their thrilling 4-3 victory.

    “I liked the way we didn’t get off the path,” Montgomery said. “We just kept playing the right way, got on the right side of pucks, didn’t give up odd-man rushes. I didn’t think we were undisciplined. I didn’t think the penalties were bad penalties that we took.”

    Here’s what we learned from Boston’s emotional win at Amerant Bank Arena.

    The Bruins physically stood their ground.

    At times, the Bruins struggled to match the moment against the desperate teams they’ve encountered during this challenging season-ending stretch. But Tuesday felt different with some stakes up for grabs.

    One team ended the night atop the Atlantic. But both also entered the night with a chance to clinch a playoff berth.

    Those developments hardly mattered. But both wanted to make statements.

    The Bruins needed a bounce-back effort following two straight losses and Monday’s sluggish practice. The Panthers, with a returning Aleksander Barkov, wanted to build off their win over the Flyers on Sunday.

    Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, and others tried to rattle the Bruins physically. Tensions boiled by the second. Each scrum after the whistle intensified, with Bennett’s bout with Hampus Lindholm and Brad Marchand’s exchange with the 6-foot-5 Miko Nikkola highlighting a heated middle 20.

    The Bruins didn’t take some of the altercations too kindly, particularly after Bennett removed Lindholm’s helmet and landed an extra punch after the veteran defenseman fell to the ice. Instead of caving, they embraced each tense moment as they worked through an imperfect but effective outing.

    “A lot of battles out there, but I think we really stuck to it there,” Lindholm said following his first career NHL scrap. “Those are games we’re going to see moving forward. It was a fun game to play.”

    Boston’s leaders set the tone following Monday’s practice.

    The Bruins entered a new week reeling from consecutive losses to the Rangers and Flyers. By Monday, they arrived unprepared for another on-ice training session at Warrior Ice Arena.

    By the end of their practice, the Bruins had improved their details enough to draw Montgomery’s attention. But they entered chase mode a mere 27 seconds in on Rodrigues’ tally.

    An elusive start evaded them. But Boston’s leadership core eventually delivered their share of responses in the physical and scoring departments.

    “I think Monty’s message is ‘we have to come prepared to play and practice every single day.’ And we weren’t the other day,” Marchand said. “But the way we finish is the way we played tonight. We played direct, we played hard and we competed all the way through.”

    An emotionally engaged Marchand rose his competitiveness during multiple exchanges with the much taller Mikkola. And Boston’s alternate captains delivered their share of timely responses on the scoreboard.


    Pastrnak’s offensive creativity shined through his second-period equalizer and nifty assist on Zacha’s game-winner. He also factored into Boston’s first tally, delivering a timely reverse hit on Tkachuk to maintain possession in the attacking end, ultimately leading to McAvoy’s 10th goal of the season.

    An assertive McAvoy showcased his puck possession prowess along the wall and returned the favor for Pastrnak late in the middle frame.

    Together, Marchand, Pastrnak and McAvoy accounted for five points. The rest of their teammates followed suit, be it through timely checks, spirited physicality or a game-ending stop from their netminder.

    “I’ll take every one of my guys in this locker room over everyone,” Swayman said.

    The battle-hardened stretch continues following a statement win.

    The Bruins entered sole possession of first in the Atlantic following Tuesday’s win in South Florida. They’ll face these same Panthers a week from Saturday to cap off their four-game season series.

    Both teams could enter a similar scenario when they meet again on Causeway Street. But their season-ending placement in the standings isn’t at the top of their minds. Instead, both teams turn their attention toward becoming more battle-tested ahead of the playoff grind.

    Indeed, the Bruins will face their share of tests over the next nine games. Seven of their tilts will come against teams currently occupying a playoff spot, including Wednesday’s quick turnaround in Tampa.

    The flaws in defending the net front and some lapses in game management remain. Yet, the Bruins persevered through three separate deficits against a physically skilled Panthers bunch for an emotive victory, one they hope becomes a tone-setter.

    “I think it prepares us for what to expect, especially these last nine or ten games and, of course, playoffs,” Swayman said after assisting on Frederic’s third-period marker for his first career NHL point. “That was a really good team we just played, and it just gives us the confidence moving forward and what we’re going to see in the playoffs.”

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    Tim Rosenthal

    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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