Bruins Need to Get Back to Basics in Game 6 Against Panthers

Throughout the 2022-23 regular season, the Boston Bruins kept it basic and went about their business as usual on a nightly basis. In doing that, they set the NHL record for wins in a season with 65 and points with 135. Through the first five games of their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Florida Panthers, they have not been as sharp as they were in the regular season.

At no time during the season did coach Jim Montgomery or his players show many signs of panic or sloppy play. Through five games, the Panthers have forced the issue on the Bruins and panic seems to be setting in behind and on the bench. If the Bruins are going to eliminate Florida in one of the next two games to avoid a historic first-round collapse, they need to get back to the basics that made them successful for 82 games from mid-October to mid-April.

Bruins Need to Get to Defensive Zone Basics

When the Bruins were playing well this season, they were very good in their defensive zone. They were very good with their breakouts and good with clearing the puck away from danger and not causing self-inflicted mistakes. That has been the story in their two losses and even in their three wins.

Dmitry Orlov’s defensive zone turnover in the corner in Game 1 led to a Matthew Tkachuk goal in a 3-1 Boston win. In Game 2, Brandon Carlo’s failure to clear the puck out of the zone and a turnover at the blue line led to a Sam Bennett goal that opened the scoring and set the tone in a 6-3 Panthers victory. Later in the game, Charlie McAvoy’s third-period defensive zone mistake led to a goal.

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In Game 5, Tyler Bertuzzi made a play from along the boards in the defensive zone, sending the puck to the middle of the zone that ended up with Anthony Duclair hitting the puck out of the air for a 1-0 lead. In the third period, Florida converted on the power play when they had good movement in the offensive zone and found Sam Reinhart alone in the slot and his shot beat Linus Ullmark under the crossbar to break the second tie of the game. That goal came 41 seconds after Patrice Bergeron tied the game. Jakub Lauko’s penalty off a faceoff at center ice following Bergeron’s goal led to the man advantage.

As if those were not bad enough, overtime turned into a disaster for the Bruins. Brad Marchand’s pass back to an open point went all the way down to behind the Boston net. Ullmark came out and played the puck, but pushed it away from Matt Grzelcyk to Carter Verhaeghe whose pass to the slot found Tkachuk and he scored to send the series back to Florida.

Matthew Tkachuk Florida Panthers Linus Ullmark Boston Bruins
Matthew Tkachuk of the Florida Panthers scores the game-winning goal on Linus Ullmark of the Boston Bruins during overtime in Game 5 of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

In their Game 2 loss, the Bruins had 15 turnovers. In their Game 5 loss, they had 17.

“Well, in Boston there has been, that’s for sure,” Montgomery said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t start on time…we tend to make big mistakes right now, I don’t know why, the last two games at home. We don’t manage our ice or manage the puck, it’s one of the two…when you’re chasing the game like we did all night, 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3, and then obviously you can’t chase the game anymore, you spend a lot of energy.

“I thought the energy that we spent in the second and the third trying to tie the game up … I didn’t think we were as sharp in overtime.”

That was not really the case in the regular season, but it has been against the Panthers. In their two wins at FLA Live Arena, the Bruins played more their style, strong zone breakouts, the defense getting involved in the offense, and playing with confidence, something they have done in spurts at home, just not consistently like the regular season.

Bruins Need More Depth Scoring

If some of the Bruins’ other players played as well as Marchand and Taylor Hall have in this series, it would be over and they would be getting ready for the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. Marchand has four goals in the series, one shorthanded, and two on the power play. Hall has looked like a different player after returning from an injury that kept him out from late February until the final week of the regular season.

Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins
Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In five games, he has five goals and three assists, but his skating game has been an issue for the Panthers to handle. It was on display in Game 4 when he scored on a breakaway, then in Game 5 when he had several strong zone entries that created chances for teammates. He used his big frame midway through the third period to gain possession of the puck in the slot, turn and beat Sergei Bobrovsky with a wrist shot to tie the game.

On the other hand, some of the Bruins’ top players have found it to be a tough series. David Pastrnak has just two goals, the first goal of the series in Game 1 and a third-period goal in Game 3. Other than that, the Panthers have focused on the 61-goal scorer during the regular season and taken him out of his comfort zone. Shutting down Pastrnak goes a long way toward shutting down the Bruins in the postseason. 

During the regular season, when Pastrnak and other top-six Bruins went into scoring droughts, they got production from their depth players and many times, it was the difference between winning and losing. That has not happened as much in the playoffs as it did in the regular season. Jake DeBrusk (three goals) and Bertuzzi (two goals) are the only other players with more than one goal in the series.

Bruins Need to Get Back to Basics & Get Depth Scoring in Game 6

Let’s be honest, there is very little pressure on the Panthers as they head home trailing 3-2 in the series. They are playing with house money. The Bruins on the other hand? They are going to be feeling the pressure after the regular season they had and the case could be made that they are playing like it during different portions of the series. All season long when the Bruins hit a rough patch, they were able to get back to their basics and they were all right. They need to do that again in Game 6.

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