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  • What can the Bruins do to overcome their Garden playoff struggles?

    Tim Rosenthal May 16, 2024

    For the last two decades, the home playoff success throughout the league evaded a handful of teams.

    The Boston Bruins fell victim to that development on numerous occasions, especially during the Jim Montgomery regime.

    After extending their season with their Game 5 victory in Florida, the Bruins will enter their fourth series-ending scenario on TD Garden ice in the last two years. Montgomery’s club wasted both opportunities in last year’s first round collapse against the Panthers, and dropped a Game 5 decision to the Leafs at Causeway this year before recovering behind a Hampus Lindholm equalizer and a David Pastrnak overtime winner in Game 7.

    The Bruins carried the momentum from their emotional win over Toronto into their second-round opener with the Panthers. But they hardly rode that wave into the next three games, including a pair in front of a boisterous Garden faithful.

    Within those two games, the Bruins heard a round of boos from the hometown crowd. They also watched their fans litter the ice with gold towels and other forms of debris following a handful of questionable calls.

    But the Panthers couldn’t put the Bruins away in Game 5, continuing another trend of teams failing to secure a series win on their first chance. 

    With their season on the line, Montgomery saw his team play a little looser and more effective in all three zones. Now, he hopes their road success will translate at home in front of a loud and passionate fanbase.

    “I’ve seen our team feel extra pressure, and I’ve seen our team play loose,” Montgomery said on the eve of Game 6. “You know, I think it just depends on where the series is at. And I also think there is a negative side to playing at home is when your fans start to boo you, it impacts your players. It just does.”

    The booing and negative feedback isn’t exclusive to Boston.

    After all, they witnessed the blowback from a hockey-crazed Original Six culture in Toronto throughout Round 1.

    “We’ve seen it with other teams. We saw it in Toronto. We’ve seen it here,” Montgomery added. “It’s not a lack of effort. Players aren’t not trying to win. They are, you know, and sometimes you gotta be patient. We’ve got to play through that.” 

    Playing through ineffective play at home is as much mental as it is physical. Sometimes, overthinking settles to the point where players grip their sticks tighter at every area of the ice and opt to look for the perfect play within their attacking zone setup. 

    It can even translate off the ice as well. There’s not as much team camaraderie at home as there is on the road. Every player becomes more prone to viewing blowback on social media or hearing sports radio callers like ‘Sully in Southie’ or ‘Rick in Revere’ spew their takes with an off chance of encountering a similar cast of characters in person.

    Yet, the Bruins gave themselves a fighter’s chance of reversing last year’s collapse.

    Even with Jeremy Swayman’s breakthrough postseason, a similar outing to Games 3 and 4, where they encountered a significant dropoff in their shot selection and puck possession, won’t help. But with a little more confidence heading into another elimination scenario, the Bruins can look into their Game 5 formula, where they generated multiple high-danger looks and improved their net-front coverage in front of Swayman.

    “Playing at home… it’s always more fun,” said forward Pavel Zacha, who is still searching for his elusive first playoff goal of his career. “I think everyone takes it as a positive, and you know, with a lot of fans in our favor, create the momentum. That’s when you want to have a lot of O-Zone time and a lot of shots. It helps you get back in the game and you’re getting more and more confidence with it.”

    The Bruins can use all the confidence they can get as they carry a 3-7 home record from the last two playoffs into Game 6. But they played themselves into a spot where they could buck their home trend and extend their season once more in front of a sold-out crowd.

    In the process, they allowed Brad Marchand a chance to return after he missed the last two games nursing an upper-body injury sustained from Sam Bennett’s sucker punch. If anything, the Bruins, and their loyal supporters, can ride that emotional lift of Marchand re-entering the lineup.

    “I think it’s going to be wild,” defenseman Charlie McAvoy said about Marchand potentially coming back. “Our fans are passionate, and they’re awesome and they love him. If he can go tomorrow, I think it’ll be loud and it’ll be exciting. We’re counting on them to help us tomorrow.”

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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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