The Bruins got a very important reminder Wednesday night in Game 2 of their Stanley Cup playoff first-round series against the Panthers: Playoff hockey is far different from the regular season.
Boston’s historic regular season is a thing of the past, and Florida clearly doesn’t care about how the Black and Gold rewrote the record book. A talented Panthers team with an experienced head coach have looked more than capable of giving the B’s a series, and they have done just that with a convincing 6-3 win Wednesday night at TD Garden. The series shifts to Florida with the Panthers owning home-ice advantage for now.
“You build a little beilef in each game. That’s what we’re trying to do,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said in his postgame press conference. “We’d be more than happy to play seven of them. We’d be fine with that, grind it as hard as we can for as long as we can.”
We now know there at least will be five of them. Here are the takeaways from Game 2, though.
Jim Montgomery is right when he says the breakouts weren’t solely a defensive problem. Tyler Bertuzzi’s up-the-middle giveaway right in front of his own net in the first could have easily been a Florida goal. However, the issue mostly stemmed from the Bruins’ back end. Two of the Panthers’ first four goals came as a direct result of the Bruins’ inability to get the puck out of their own zone. Brandon Carlo tried to move a puck off the wall to the middle of the ice on a breakout but whiffed, leading to Sam Bennett’s goal in the second. In the third, a three-man Panthers forecheck made life hell for Charlie McAvoy on the boards, and David Krejci was flying the zone, leaving a massive amount of frozen real estate for Dmitry Orlov to defend against a trio of Panthers. It’s also a big reason the Bruins looked slower than usual.
The Bruins will go back to the drawing board and almost certainly will tweak something in their game plan to improve the breakouts. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see some sort of lineup change, too. Matt Grzelcyk sat out the first two games, but he is arguably the Bruins’ best puck mover from the back end and could draw in. But those goals came on miscues from players like Carlo and McAvoy. Florida almost scored in the first when Hampus Lindholm couldn’t keep a puck in the zone on the power play, and he was then abused by Aleksander Barkov who won the puck away. Those are Boston’s top blueliners. They need to be better regardless of what Montgomery can do.
Rough go for the second line
Look, there weren’t many players in Black and Gold who had a nice night Wednesday. Even Brad Marchand, who unquestionably was the best Bruin in Game 2, was on the ice for three Panthers goals. There’s room for improvement everywhere. That being said, the Game 2 performance of Krejci’s line might be part of the consideration for potential lineup changes. According to Natural Stat Trick, the trio of Krejci, David Pastrnak and Bertuzzi was on the ice for seven Panthers five-on-five scoring chances while generating just two of their own. The other Bruins lines combined for six scoring chances allowed among them all. The line also allowed four high-danger chances without generating any of their own and were out-shot 9-2 at even strength. Pastrnak was held quiet in the offensive zone, too, with just a pair of shots on net and just four attempts total — including a good look in the third with which he completely missed the net. The Bertuzzi-Pastrnak wasn’t quite there, either, which could open the door for a Czech Line reunion if Patrice Bergeron returns for Game 3, especially if Boston is also without Tomas Nosek.
If there were any kind of question about rust for Bennett, the Panthers center wasted no time answering. He scored the first goal of the game and had a really solid night, putting seven shots on goal in 16:15 of ice time. His lines drove possession most of the night, despite a lot of time against the Bruins’ top line and defensive pairing. As the series shifts back to Florida, Maurice certainly has an advantage — especially if Bergeron can’t return — when it comes to being able to find the mismatches with the last change. If Bennett plays like this moving forward, and if Bergeon doesn’t come back, Florida has a clear advantage when it comes to top-six forwards.
The goaltending question
Linus Ullmark was the No. 1 reason the Bruins won the series opener. Florida pushed hard in Game 1, but it was Ullmark who stood tall and kept his team in the fight. He did some of that as well in Game 2, but not quite enough. He had a few highlight-reel saves, like the previously mentioned Barkov stop, but he did allow five goals on just 29 shots. Montgomery spoke about potential lineup changes but didn’t say whether the goaltender situation would be evaluated. By not turning to Jeremy Swayman for Game 2, it’s clear the Bruins aren’t going with a rotation. Quite frankly, that’s OK; No one really does that in the playoffs, and Ullmark was the NHL’s best goalie this season. However, by riding with Ullmark and getting away from the rotation, it does leave Montgomery open to the question of when his goalie struggles because of how reliant they were on both goalies all season. The good news, if you want to call it that, is the Bruins should have the utmost confidence in Swayman should they go to him at some point. But by doing so, they risk complicating the situation moving forward.
No need to panic, but …
If there’s a worry for the Bruins, it shouldn’t be that they have lost home-ice advantage and the series is even after two games. The B’s can go into Florida and win. They can go anywhere and win — when they’re playing their best. Through six periods of this series, the Panthers at least have matched Boston in terms of high-end play. Boston stole Game 1 despite getting outplayed in the first two periods, and the third period of Game 2 was maybe the worst any team has made the B’s look all season. Florida has been the better team for at least half the series so far. That can change in a heartbeat, as is the nature of a seven-game series. If the Bruins get Bergeron back, perhaps his calming presence, tangibly and intangibly, puts Boston back in control. The wake-up call has been sent, though.