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The Bruins outplayed the Panthers much of the night Wednesday, outshooting them 47-25, but found themselves needing to come from behind three different times thanks in large part to self-inflicted wounds.
The biggest miscue of all came in overtime, with Linus Ullmark misplaying the puck behind his own net and turning it over to Carter Verhaeghe, who then set up Matthew Tkachuk for the goal that gave the Panthers the 4-3 win and sent the series back to Florida for Game 6 on Friday night.
The Bruins still lead the series three games to two, but blowing an opportunity to wrap up the series on home ice is obviously a tough pill to swallow. Here are three keys for the Bruins to bounce back and give themselves a better chance in Game 6:
1. Cut out the ‘big mistakes’
Bruins coach Jim Montgomery blamed “catastrophic turnovers” after Boston’s Game 2 loss. Wednesday night, it was “big mistakes,” with Montgomery acknowledging “lulls” in his team’s concentration in their last two home games.
“In Boston there has been, that’s for sure,” Montgomery said. “…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.”
In addition to the aforementioned turnover by Ullmark in overtime, the Panthers’ first goal of the game also came off a brutal defensive-zone turnover from Tyler Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi got the puck on the wall and blindly threw a pass to the front of his own net, right to Verhaeghe, who then set up Anthony Duclair for the goal.
In both cases, there was clearly an element of miscommunication (Ullmark with Matt Grzelcyk, Bertuzzi with Charlie McAvoy). Regardless, it’s still on the guy with the puck to make the right decision. The safer play for Bertuzzi was to put it behind the net, not into the slot. Ullmark should have left the puck for Grzelcyk or moved it the opposite direction as the forecheck pressure, not right into it.
The Bruins’ defensive-zone play was sloppy on Florida’s second goal as well, with Derek Forbort and Charlie Coyle losing a board battle and neither Dmitry Orlov nor Nick Foligno picking up goal-scorer Sam Bennett in the slot due to what appeared to be another miscommunication.
The Bruins didn’t make these kinds of “big mistakes” in their wins in Florida in Games 3 and 4, and they didn’t make them the vast majority of this season. It’s bizarre that they’ve made them in two straight home games. Hampus Lindholm tried to pinpoint a reason for it after the game.
“Maybe a little simpler on the road,” the Bruins defenseman said. “That’s the mindset. It shouldn’t really be that different at home. It’s hard to point a finger at exactly what it is, but they’ve been good at executing when we get them. So, we have to tighten up a little bit.”
Perhaps simpler will serve the Bruins better once again in Game 6.
2. Cool it with the lineup changes
Jim Montgomery has had the magic touch when it comes to changing up his lines this season, but he might have finally overthought things Wednesday night.
Most notably, he started the game with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on different lines, the first time in seven years the Bruins have done that in a game in which they’ve both been playing.
Montgomery’s new-look lines lasted just half of the first period before he changed things up and reunited Bergeron and Marchand (and David Pastrnak) to combat a slow start from his team. He tweaked the lines again in the second period, reuniting Jake DeBrusk with Bergeron and Marchand and putting Pastrnak back with Pavel Zacha and Tyler Bertuzzi.
“I don’t know if changing the lines had anything to do with what we just — I don’t know why we didn’t have energy in the first period, but we just didn’t,” Montgomery said after the game.
Maybe the lines had nothing to do with the slow start, but it’s also fair to wonder if feeling out new linemates contributed to said slow start. Regardless, it’s probably not a coincidence that the Bruins started to play much better once Montgomery moved everyone back into more familiar spots.
The other curious call from Montgomery was making Trent Frederic a healthy scratch and keeping Jakub Lauko in the lineup. That didn’t work out either, as Lauko took two penalties, had zero shots on goal, one shot attempt and one hit in 7:32 of ice time. The Panthers’ third goal came with him sitting in the penalty box.
Frederic didn’t have a point in the first four games of the series, but he was getting chances, ranking third on the team in 5-on-5 shots on goal per 60 minutes and second in individual expected goals per 60. Lauko has zero shots on goal in three games.
If David Krejci remains out (he has not yet been ruled out for Game 6), it seems pretty straightforward what the Bruins’ forward lines should be:
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Jake DeBrusk
Tyler Bertuzzi - Pavel Zacha - David Pastrnak
Taylor Hall - Charlie Coyle - Trent Frederic
Nick Foligno - Tomas Nosek - Garnet Hathaway
Let’s see if that’s what Montgomery does.
3. Get David Pastrnak going
Pastrnak had 61 goals and 113 points in the regular season, far and away the team leader offensively. He has two goals and zero assists this series, tying him for ninth on the team in scoring.
It’s a testament to the Bruins’ depth that they’ve pushed the Panthers to the brink of elimination with Bergeron missing four games, Krejci missing three and Pastrnak having a quiet series. That said, Pastrnak making more noise would make it a heck of a lot easier to close this out.
On Wednesday, Pastrnak was held off the scoresheet in his 23:46 of ice time, highest among Bruins forwards and third-highest on the team. Montgomery did not sound concerned about the star winger after the game.
“You know, the puck’s not going in for him right now. It’s just a matter of time,” Montgomery said. “I thought he worked really hard, I thought he won a lot of battles, I thought he was more involved maybe than he was the first two games at home. But it’s just a matter of time. He’s just too good.”
There is some truth to that. At 5-on-5 play, Pastrnak’s rate of shots on goal, shot attempts, individual scoring chances and individual expected goals are all pretty much in line with his regular-season numbers. His shooting percentage is down, from 13.4% in the regular season to 7.7% in this series.
Pastrnak is not getting as many chances on the power play, where his shots on goal (23.4 per 60 minutes in the regular season to 11.9 in the playoffs), shot attempts (45.0 to 28.5) and scoring chances (19.6 to 9.5) are way down.
However, the Bruins’ power play has been good in this series, scoring on six of their 19 opportunities (31.6%), including going 2-for-5 on Wednesday. So, on the one hand, you might say that taking more shots on the power play could help get Pastrnak going. But on the other, you probably don’t want other guys to start force-feeding him the puck since the power play is working well without doing that.
Pastrnak often comes under fire for his turnovers, and interestingly there is also a big split between 5-on-5 and power play on that front this series. He has taken better care of the puck at 5-on-5, with his rate of giveaways dropping from 4.25 per 60 minutes in the regular season to 1.66 in this series (two in 72:16). On the power play, however, his giveaway rate has jumped from 4.41 per 60 in the regular season to 9.49 in the playoffs (four in 25:16).
Mostly good things happened during Pastrnak’s 5-on-5 shifts Wednesday, with the Bruins out-attempting the Panthers 33-10, out-chancing them 16-6, and having an expected goals share of 71.6%. The two bad things that happened (Duclair’s goal off Bertuzzi’s turnover and Tkachuk’s game-winner off Ullmark’s turnover) were not his fault.
Pastrnak’s play contributed to the good, with him taking care of the puck, helping to create chances, and winning some of those battles Montgomery mentioned. Keep doing that and more pucks will start to go in, either for him or his linemates.
On the power play, Pastrnak can’t get frustrated and force things. The Bruins are scoring even without him taking a ton of shots, so embrace the role of facilitator or even decoy, and stop turning pucks over, especially on zone entries. There have been a few too many instances of Pastrnak trying to skate through multiple defenders himself instead of dishing to teammates or chipping pucks into space and chasing it down.