The hardest game to win in any postseason is the series closeout game. The Boston Bruins are finding that out the hard way.
After taking a 3-1 series lead with a pair of wins in Florida in Games 3 and 4, Boston returned home with a chance to end the series in Game 5, but lost 4-3 in overtime. They had their second chance to send the Florida Panthers home for the summer in Game 6 Friday night (April 28), but once again failed to eliminate the No. 8 seed and now be forced to play a game that they don’t want to play, a Game 7 win or go home after dropping a 7-5 shootout at FLA Live Arena.
For the second straight game, the Panthers got the lead and every time the Bruins answered, they answered back with a goal to set up the winner take all Game 7 at the TD Garden on Sunday (April 30). Here are three takeaways from the Panthers’ win as the Presidents Trophy-winning Bruins will look to avoid a historic first-round collapse in Game 7.
Bruins Puck Management Leads to Self-Inflected Wounds
As the series has gone on, it’s safe to say that the Bruins’ puck management and play in their defensive end have been their undoing. It hit rock bottom in Game 6.
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Connor Clifton’s ill-advised pass from the defensive zone to center ice was intercepted and led to a 2-on-1 that resulted in a Matthew Tkachuk goal in the first period. In the third period and after David Pastrnak gave the Bruins a 4-3 lead on the power play, the Bruins failed to clear the puck twice and Florida tied the game on a Zac Dalpe goal. After Jake DeBrusk gave the Bruins a 5-4 lead with a shorthanded goal, Brandon Carlo had the puck on his stick, lost it behind the net with no one around and Thachuk scored 27 seconds after DeBrusk to tie the game. To add insult to injury, Eetu Luostarinen scored when Clifton was not able to clear the puck out of the zone off the wall and it led to the game-winning goal.
The play in the defensive end has been an issue the whole series, but Linus Ullmark needs to make some saves to help bail them out. Brandon Montour scored just over two minutes into the game on the power play on a shot that Ullmark would like to have back, then Tkachuk’s third-period goal is another one he would like to have back. It makes you think, does Jim Montgomery make a change for Game 7 with Jeremy Swayman or go back to Ullmark?
Connor Clifton & Derek Forbort Struggle
I’m not breaking any news here, but it was a night that Clifton and Forbort would like to forget. Clifton finished with a plus/minus of minus-3 and an ill-advised charging penalty in the first period. The play of this combination has been an issue in the series and it makes you wonder why Matt Grzelcyk was taken out of the lineup in favor of Clifton for Game 6.
What has been the biggest issue for Clifton and Forbort all series long when they have been on the ice is the lack of puck management, clearing the puck out when they have had the chance, and zero transition ability out of the zone on exits. It’s been very costly for them and Montgomery, who has made questionable lineup decisions this whole series, has a big decision for Sunday as to who is going to be on the ice and who is going to be on the ninth floor of the TD Garden.
David Pastrnak Breaks Through Offensively
If there were any positives from the game, it’s that Pastrnak was able to find the back of the net. He tied the game in the second period with a highlight reel goal when he was able to score on a shot between his legs with his back to the net. in the third period, he scored on the power play when he received a nice no-look pass from Bertuzzi to give the Bruins a short-lived 4-3 lead.
Through the first five games of the series, it was a struggle for the 61-goal scorer in the regular season, but scoring twice in Game 6 is what the Bruins hope will get him going. He finished with seven shots on the net, including being stopped on a breakaway by Sergei Bobrovsky after his power-play goal that could have extended the lead to two goals. If the Bruins are going to win Game 7, they will need more production from their leading scorer this season.
Quick Bruins’ Takeaways
- Tkachuk has been a difference-maker in the series and he had two goals and an assist. It was his fourth multi-point game of the series and he has been the best player on either team. Like him or not, he’s single-handily leading the Panthers to one game from a historic first-round comeback after being down 3-1 in the series.
- Carlo appeared to give the Bruins the lead in the second period, but Florida coach Paul Maurice challenged for a hand pass earlier in the shift by DeBrusk and the NHL called back the goal. It didn’t appear to be a clear-cut hand pass as it hit his finger and the league still called the goal back. The momentum shifted after that as Aleksander Barkov scored 56 seconds later to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead.
- Scoring the first goal of the game has been huge not only in this series, but also during the regular season when these two teams play. Montour’s goal on the man advantage in the first period started the 12-goal outburst and marked the ninth time this season that these two teams have battled in 10 games where the team that scored first has won the game. Something to watch in Game 7.
The Bruins are in a situation that they didn’t envision a week ago when they led the series 3-1. A Game 7 on home ice in the first round against the second wild card team is not what they envisioned. Now they have all the pressure on them to avoid having a historic first-round exit after a historic regular season.