After a record-setting regular season where things came easy at times for the Boston Bruins, they knew it was not going to be that easy against the Florida Panthers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Never did they expect to put together the performance they did in Game 2.
The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins were outplayed in a lot of areas by the eight-seeded Panthers at the TD Garden and fell, 6-3, evening the best-of-seven-series at 1-1 as it shifts to South Florida. As the Bruins prepare for Games 3 and 4, the case could be made that the Black and Gold are somewhat lucky to be tied in the series as they played their C game in Game 1 and their D game, at best, in Game 2.
All season long, first-year coach Jim Montgomery has been pushing all the right buttons with his team. Whether it’s with lineup decisions, in-game changes, and adjustments or just with calling timeouts to regroup his team, everything has worked out. Following Game 2, he was not happy with some of the decisions his team made, especially in the defensive zone with all the turnovers and chances they gifted the Panthers. When asked following the game if the effort would cause him to make changes, he was honest.
“I think it gives me pause to think about changes everywhere,” said Montgomery.
There you go. Changes could be on the way, but which ones? On forward, on defense, or maybe in goal? With some of the decisions Montgomery has made this season, no lineup changes would come as a surprise.
Montgomery’s Potential Lineup Changes
The first lineup change could be, should be, and will more than likely be on defense. In the first two games, the play in the defensive zone from their six defensemen has not been good. Turnovers, failure to have clean zone exits and some head-scratching decisions have led to what could be considered their two worst games of the season in succession.
Dmitry Orlov had a bad turnover in Game 1 that led to a Matthew Tkachuk goal, then in Game 2, Brandon Carlo had one at the blue line in the second period that led to a Sam Bennett goal that opened the scoring. It got worse from there. In Game 2 alone, Boston had 15 turnovers, to five for Florida. Charlie McAvoy had a turnover in the defensive zone in the third period that led to a Carter Verhaeghe goal for a 4-2 lead and it took a lot of wind out of the Black and Gold’s sail.
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The most obvious one for Montgomery for Game 3 is inserting Matt Grzelcyk into the lineup after sitting the first two games. Who comes out? It most likely comes down to Derek Forbort or Connor Clifton. The thinking here is that Forbort will be the one who stays in the lineup because of his value on the penalty kill, something that will be big on the road at a place where the Bruins lost both regular season games and in ugly fashion.
The next lineup decision will center around captain Patrice Bergeron, who has missed the first two games of the series with an illness and injury. They survived Game 1 without their top center, but struggled in Game 2 at the face-off dot. Florida got Bennett back in the lineup for the first time in a month and they controlled the face-off dot, but the biggest area Bergeron’s absence was exposed was on the power play. In five offensive zone face-offs with the man advantage, the Bruins went 2-for-5, which simply hurts an already struggling power play. Florida was able to get pucks out of the zone and the Boston’s zone entries have left a lot to be desired in the last couple of months.
If Bergeron returns, then who comes out? Trent Frederic is a candidate as he has not had the best first two games and has struggled to finish around the net with chances that he was scoring on in the regular season when he had a career-high 17 goals. Tomas Nosek has thrown a wrench into lineup decisions as his hit on Eric Stall late in the third period of Game 2 could very well draw some attention of the NHL Department of Player Safety. If so, a suspension would be not surprising considering the threshold the league set with Michael Bunting of the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning when he got hit with a three-game suspension (a little high if you ask me) for a hit on Eric Cernak.
Does A.J. Greer enter the lineup to bring some physicality? Maybe, but that would be surprising. A Nosek suspension changes things and so does what now the Bruins are calling an injury to Bergeron. It’s the playoffs and players always play through injuries in the postseason with Florida evening the series, you would expect to see the five-time Selke Trophy winner in the lineup. If he’s not, then there should be a real cause for concern with just how bad his injury is.
Goaltending the Least of the Bruins’ Problems
Could there be a change in goal? Sure, however, Linus Ullmark is the least of the Bruins’ problems heading into Game 3. In fact, he was a big reason why they won Game 1 and he kept them in the game as long as he could in Game 2 before the high-danger chances by the Panthers finally caught up with Boston, mostly off of turnovers.
This season Montgomery has ridden Ullmark in a lot of big games and the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina Trophy should be back in the net in Game 3. Jeremy Swayman, like other Bruins’, has also been sick and there is no telling how well he feels and what he would look like. At this point, you ride your hot hand all year and live with the results.
All Eyes on Montgomery’s Potential Changes
This season, everything that Montgomery has done has worked out for the most part. Whatever he decides for Game 3 will be in the best interest of his team and put his team in a position to get a win in an arena that has been a house of horrors this season. Two losses, an ugly 5-2 setback in November, then an epic collapse in January after David Pastrnak scored with under a minute left in the game, only to have Florida tie the game ninth final seconds and win it 20 seconds into overtime, 4-3.
The Panthers got what they wanted, a split in Boston as the series shifted to Sunrise. They hold the momentum in the series against a 65-win team in the regular season and have all the confidence in the world that they can pull off a first-round upset. The Bruins need to respond by getting at least a split in the next two games and there will be no doubt some lineup changes. General manager (GM) Don Sweeney gave his team depth at the trade deadline for situations like this and now it’s time that Montgomery and his players use it to their advantage on the road where it’s going to be a tough environment to change the momentum in the series and help them avoid a historic first-round exit.