Bruins-Panthers preview; Should we be worried about Bergeron?
The Bruins open their first-round series against the Panthers Monday night at TD Garden, with puck drop set for 7:30 p.m.
The biggest storyline as of Monday morning is whether Patrice Bergeron will play after missing both of Boston’s practices this weekend. We should know more after morning skate, which is set for 11 a.m. at Warrior Ice Arena.
In the meantime, here are five matchups that could decide the best-of-seven series:
Bruins’ power play vs. Panthers’ penalty kill
The Panthers took the second-most penalties in the NHL this season. Their penalty kill ranked 23rd in the NHL. That is obviously not a good formula, and it’s why they were a net negative on special teams this season despite having a top-10 power play.
The Bruins’ power play… well, it ranked 12th for the season, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Boston had the second-best power play in the NHL through the first 47 games of the season, but then the second-worst through the next 27.
The Bruins’ power play may have righted the ship down the stretch, going 7-for-24 (29.2%) over their season-ending eight-game winning streak. If the good Bruins power play shows up in this series, it can make the penalty-happy Panthers and their porous PK pay, potentially busting games open and turning this into a short series.
If the bad Bruins power play shows up, it could be a momentum-killer that allows the Panthers to hang around longer than they should.
Hampus Lindholm and Dmitry Orlov vs. Matthew Tkachuk
Tkachuk is a right wing who is a true power forward. He is one of the game’s premier offensive talents, putting up 109 points (40 goals, 69 assists) this season. He’s also 6-foot-2, strong, physical, gritty and annoying.
How do you defend him? The reality is it has to be a team effort, but if you were designing one specific player to be a counterweight, you would probably want a left defenseman who has size, strength, skating, a good stick, excellent defensive instincts, and an ability to make clean plays under forechecking pressure.
The Bruins have two of those: Lindholm and Orlov. They acquired one at last year’s trade deadline and one at this year’s, turning a hole on their roster into a massive strength. Now they are perhaps better-equipped to handle a player like Tkachuk than any team in the league.
It’s unlikely anyone can truly shut down Tkachuk. But the Panthers might need Tkachuk to completely take over games if they’re going to have a shot at pulling off the upset, and the Bruins’ defense can at least make sure he doesn’t do that.
David Pastrnak vs. Panthers’ LD
At the other end of the ice, it’s hard to see how the Panthers slow down the Bruins’ greatest offensive weapon. They do not have a Lindholm or Orlov they can throw at Pastrnak.
Instead, they have this on the left side of their defense:
The key metric on these cards is “EV Defence,” or even-strength defense. Gustav Forsling, Marc Staal and Josh Mahura aren’t great at it. Pastrnak should be his licking his lips at these matchups (as should Jake DeBrusk, for that matter). And if the Panthers double-team him, the Bruins should have enough talent around Pastrnak to take advantage.
Bruins’ centers vs. Aleksander Barkov
Ideally for the Bruins, this would just be Bergeron vs. Barkov, especially on home ice where Jim Montgomery can dictate matchups. Bergeron dominated the showdown of perennial Selke candidates this season, with the Bruins out-attempting the Panthers 27-7 when the two were on the ice, outscoring them 2-0, and having 80.3% of expected goals.
If Bergeron is unable to go in Game 1 or any other game, though, then someone else needs to take on the matchup against Florida’s second-leading scorer. Panthers coach Paul Maurice can also get his star center away from Bergeron when the series shifts to South Florida for Games 3 and 4.
The Bruins trust Tomas Nosek defensively, but he won’t play as many minutes as Barkov. Charlie Coyle has played a more defensive role this year than seasons past, so Montgomery could opt to use his third line as a checking line. Pavel Zacha would be Bergeron’s replacement; he is certainly pretty responsible defensively, but he’s no Bergeron.
Maurice would probably want to get Barkov out against David Krejci’s line, both because Barkov’s defense might be needed against the line that has Pastrnak on it, and because that is arguably Boston’s weakest line defensively. Even that matchup went fairly well for the B’s this season, though. When Barkov was out against Krejci and Pastrnak, shot attempts were 12-10 Bruins, expected goals were 52.6% Bruins, and actual goals were 1-0 Bruins.
Bruins’ goaltending vs. Panthers’ finishing
The Panthers are a very good offensive team. They can create off the rush or with their forecheck/cycle game. They rank top-three in the league in shot attempts, shots on goal, scoring chances and high-danger chances.
They are not, however, a great finishing team. They rank 22nd in the NHL in team shooting percentage at 9.53%. Part of that is that three of their top six shot-takers are defensemen Brandon Montour, Aaron Ekblad and Gustav Forsling, and all of them are shooting under 7%.
The Bruins, by contrast, have just one defenseman (Hampus Lindholm) among their top 10 shot-takers. The nine forwards in that group are all shooting over 10%, and the Bruins as a team rank third in shooting percentage at 11.13%.
If the Panthers were facing a team that had average or subpar goaltending, the sheer quantity of their chances might net them enough goals to win. Unfortunately for them, they’re facing a team that got historically great goaltending from Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman this season. The Bruins’ .929 team save percentage was 14 points better than any other team. Beating them on a regular basis might require more clinical finishing than Florida displayed this season.
Shooting and save percentages can flip quickly in a short series. All it takes is Ullmark and/or Swayman slipping a little off their regular-season standards, or the Panthers bearing down more on their chances, or some of that ever-unpredictable “puck luck.” But at least on paper, the Panthers’ subpar finishing against the Bruins’ league-best goaltending has the makings of some frustrating nights for Florida.