Stanley Cup Playoffs: Bruins vs Panthers Game 5 Preview

The Boston Bruins have their first opportunity to close their series against the Florida Panthers tonight. Coming off two crucial road victories without either of their top two centers, the Bruins have risen to adversity once again, just as they have done all season. Here’s a look at tonight’s matchup, including the possible return of captain Patrice Bergeron.

Bruins vs Panthers Series Analysis Through Four Games

Despite playing arguably some of their sloppiest hockey of the season, the Bruins find themselves taking a 3-1 series lead into tonight’s Game 5. The Bruins have been turning the puck over frequently, and the Panthers have outshot them 137-132 through the first four games.

Taylor Hall leads the team with five takeaways, while the Bruins have a total of 25 takeaways compared to the Panthers’ 27. Carter Verhaeghe leads the Panthers with seven of the Panthers’ 43 giveaways, and Brad Marchand has eight of the Bruins’ 41 giveaways in the series. Defensive specialist, Derek Forbort, has seen his Corsi for % (CF%) drop from 44.9 in the regular season to 38.4 in the playoffs while starting 69% of his shifts in the defensive zone.

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Offensively, Matthew Tkachuk is leading the Panthers with two goals and three assists through the four games. He is driving the team’s attack with a team-high 65.4 CF%. He has been involved in plenty of post-whistle activity and was handed out a $5000 fine by the NHL Player Safety Department for his nasty cross-check to Garnet Hathaway at the end of the first period in Game 4. Then in the dying moments of the game, he had Linus Ullmark fuming to the point that the Bruins’ goaltender dropped his gloves, looking to fight Tkachuk. It’s for the best no punches were thrown. As defenceman Brandon Carlo said, “I think we’re going to keep Linus’ hands intact, and not let him risk breaking anybody’s face. So we’re gonna leave it like that.”

Matthew Tkachuk, Florida Panthers
Matthew Tkachuk, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Has led the Bruins in a somewhat surprising offensive outburst. He seems to have found his game quickly after missing extended time with a lower-body injury. With a four-point performance in Game 4, he has four goals and three assists in the series. The Bruins’ significant trade acquisitions, Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitry Orlov have made their impact felt, posting six and five points each, respectively.

Although the Bruins have been without their leader and captain, Bergeron, Marchand has stepped into a leadership role. He hasn’t taken a single penalty, despite being the target of the Panthers’ physicality, instead remaining calm and poised and leading by example. On the flip side, the Panthers need more from their captain Aleksander Barkov, who has been limited to just two assists. He will need to provide an offensive boost for his team if they plan on extending the series beyond tonight’s game.

Game 5: Bruins Players to Watch

It’s unconfirmed, but it seems Bergeron will decide whether or not he will play, following pre-game warmups tonight. Expect him to be cautious, as another injury setback could be devastating for the Bruins’ playoff run. However, if he does play, he will be a player to watch for the Bruins tonight.

He centered a line with David Pastrnak and Bertuzzi on his wings during the final practice leading up to Game 5. Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery will likely keep Bergeron’s long-time linemate, Marchand, on a line with Charlie Coyle, while Pavel Zacha will center the Bruins’ third line with Hall and Jake Debrusk on his wings. Should Bergeron play tonight, Trent Frederic will likely be the odd man out.

Patrice Bergeron Boston Bruins
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Playing Bergeron alongside Pastrnak and Bertuzzi would throw him into a more offensive role, which should suit him better than the gruelling shifts of a more defensive role. Of course, the five-time Selke Trophy winner will bring his elite defensive game to the forefront regardless. His impact will also be felt in the faceoff circle and should lead to better possession numbers for the Bruins.

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Adding Bergeron to the lineup will also benefit Pastrnak, as the Panthers will have yet another offensive threat to deal with. It should create more space for him after being limited to two goals in the series. He scores in bunches and is due for a breakout game in the series. Keep your eyes on him tonight.

Game 5 Panthers’ Players To Watch

The Panthers should look no further than at their captain for a big-time performance. He must lead the club on both sides of the ice; Barkov needs to be a game-breaker, and two assists through four games are simply not enough for Florida to get back in the series.

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Aside from Barkov, Sam Bennett has been providing the Panthers with a solid performance throughout the series, as he has a knack for performing well in the postseason. He has two goals and one assist since rejoining the lineup in Game 2. Bennett also provides his team with a heavy physical presence on the forecheck. He has 26 goals and 26 assists for 52 points in 82 career playoff games.

Sam Bennett Florida Panthers
Sam Bennett, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Panthers will also get a big boost as Aaron Ekblad will return to the lineup after missing Game 4 with an injury. Ekblad plays on the team’s top defensive pairing and their top power-play unit. He also brings a strong two-way game and will allow Brandon Montour to step into the more offensive role he has played all season.

Bruins vs Panthers Goaltending Matchup

Through four games, the Panthers have outshot the Bruins, and the difference has been in goal, where Vezina Trophy frontrunner, Ullmark, has carried his remarkable regular season performance into the playoffs. He has a 2.55 goals-against average (GAA) and a .926 save percentage (SV%). Jeremy Swayman played out the final minutes of Game 4 as tempers flared, Ullmark dropped the gloves, and Montgomery approved of his goaltender’s decision to square up with Tkachuk. “I love it,” Montgomery said. “He’s all-in.” Despite dealing with some sort of injury, Ullmark is expected to start in net again tonight.

Linus Ullmark Boston Bruins
Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In comparison, Panthers head coach Paul Maurice has created a goaltending conundrum after yanking Alex Lyon in Game 3 and turning to Sergei Bobrovsky since. Lyon had a 3.26 GAA and a .902 SV%, while Bobrovsky has a 5.54 GAA and a .846 SV% in the series. Maurice declined to confirm who will start tonight. “I have complete confidence in either one of them playing,” he said.“We’ve got two really good goaltenders, and the decision will be mine.”

Bruins vs Panthers Game 5 Outlook

The Panthers face the daunting task of keeping their season alive tonight, and the outlook isn’t great. The Bruins won both games on the road without their top two centers, which does not bode well for the Panthers.

Special teams have played a massive part in the series, as the Bruins have found success in their power play and continue to have a superb penalty kill. They have capitalized on four of their 14 power play opportunities, while the Panthers are just one for 11 in the series. This trend will need to change dramatically for the Panthers to pull off a Game 5 victory.

While anything can happen in the playoffs, expect the Bruins to close out the series in front of a raucous home crowd. The Panthers won’t roll over and give up by any means, but the Bruins’ depth has been too much for Florida to handle, and with the looming return of their captain, Boston could be looking ahead to the second round at the end of the night. Tune in to catch all the action. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 PM ET.