Keys to the Panthers-Bruins Game 6 playoff showdown

The Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers entered their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series with history.

But their present story might be even more compelling.

Let’s recap:

  • The Panthers were routed by the Bruins in Game 1, blew Boston out in Game 2 and then cruised to wins in Games 3 and 4 to put their opponent on the ropes.

  • The Bruins responded with a gutsy effort in Game 5 to stay alive. That sent the series back to Boston for Game 6 on Friday.

If that all sounds like déjà vu, well, it’s close. Last season, when Boston and Florida met in the first round, it was the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins who jumped to a 3-1 series lead, let it slip away and then lost in overtime in Game 7. Florida advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.

Is Boston about to flip the script on Florida with a comeback of its own? Or, are the Panthers ready to pounce again and send the Bruins packing?

Game 6 could be a series-defining moment. Before it goes down, we look back at storylines Boston and Florida generated after the lopsided showing in Game 1 — when it was already clear to expect the unexpected from these Atlantic Division foes.

Panthers pepper Swayman

There’s no arguing that Jeremy Swayman has been Boston’s MVP in the postseason. He bamboozled the Toronto Maple Leafs throughout their first-round series, and Swayman was razor sharp in Boston’s dominant Game 1 victory against Florida.

Since then, though, Swayman’s been brought slightly back to earth by the Panthers’ offensive onslaught. He’s 1-3 in Games 2 through 5, with an .896 save percentage and 3.59 goals-against average, a stark contrast to the 5-2 record, .955 SV% and 1.42 GAA Swayman held through the playoffs through Game 1 of this series.

At issue: Swayman has been under siege in the second round. Boston is allowing 34 shots per game and the Bruins forwards are providing little help in the goal support department (averaging 1.75 per game in Games 2 through 5) while averaging just 19.5 shots in that span toward Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

Frankly, Swayman’s numbers could be worse given what’s happening in front of him. And Boston is letting Bobrovsky off easy.

The Panthers netminder is admittedly underworked, but solid when called upon with a 3-1 record, .910 SV% and 1.77 GAA since Game 1.

Instead of Swayman exuding swagger, it’s been Bobrovsky looking unbothered. Boston will need to change that in Game 6, where the order of the day should be adapting Florida’s strategy of firing pucks at will in an effort to ratchet up the pressure.

The Bruins’ struggling special teams

The shoe — or skate — is on the other foot now for Boston when it comes to sputtering special teams. The Bruins shut down Toronto’s power play in the first round, and it was a decisive factor in their eventual victory.

Well, Boston’s power play has been underachieving against Florida. The Bruins are 1-for-14 with the extra man (7.1%), while Florida is 6-for-25 (24.0%) on its power play. Boston’s penalty kill has taken an obvious dip (to 76.0%, compared to 95.2% against the Leafs).

However, the silver lining is the Bruins were 4-for-4 on the kill in Game 5 while holding Florida’s special teams off the scoresheet for the first time since Game 1. Now, considering Boston won both those games, it’s safe to say special teams projects to be a significant element in the Bruins outcome for Game 6.

And consider this: Boston and Florida have scored an equal number of 5-on-5 goals in the series (nine). There’s no mistaking what a well-timed power-play marker could do for either side in Friday’s contest.

Florida’s fearsome depth

It was fair to wonder after Game 1 whether the Panthers were too top-heavy up front.

Swayman appeared so locked in that if Florida’s stars couldn’t break him, would their depth skaters be able to help out?

The answer was yes.

In their past four games, the Panthers have seen 11 different shooters tally at least one goal (and Matthew Tkachuk isn’t even one of them), with the bounty spread throughout all four lines. While captain Aleksander Barkov‘s three goals and seven points have certainly aided Florida in getting to its current pinnacle, contributions from throughout the lineup have driven the Panthers’ overall success.

Having Sam Bennett back has been a boon for Florida, although he has created some controversy along the way. Bennett’s hit on Bruins’ captain Brad Marchand in Game 3 forced the winger out of Games 4 and 5 with an upper-body injury (Marchand’s status remains unknown for Game 6). It was also Bennett who scored in a controversial goalie interference sequence during Game 4, a second event to help make him public enemy No. 1 in Beantown.

Regardless, the Panthers have continued to show they’re not limited to one skill. Boston has as well — the Bruins’ issue is their elite talents haven’t been impacting the club enough. Since Game 1, Boston has generated seven goals overall, with no player scoring more than one. That sort of output won’t suffice when the Panthers are piling on from a variety of places.

This is the time for David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk & Co. to do what they do best: Make Bobrovsky uncomfortable in the crease.

Momentum fluctuates and coaching matters

No, Boston wasn’t able to maintain the high it was on after drowning the Maple Leafs and rolling into South Florida with a chance to avenge last season’s disappointment.

But any coach or player who’s been through a long playoff run will say the same thing, and it’s that momentum rarely determines the final result in a series. The pendulum swings come fast and furious.

And this matchup has created plenty of those.

In Game 1, it was Bruins coach Jim Montgomery settling his team early in the third period when he saw it beginning to panic against a pressing Panthers’ attack. Montgomery read the situation perfectly; Justin Brazeau responded to Montgomery’s timeout with a goal that extended Boston’s lead to 4-1 and secured its eventual win.

Panthers coach Paul Maurice took a noteworthy timeout in Game 5 to deliver an expletive-laced tirade at his team as it trailed 1-0. Sam Reinhart immediately scored a tying goal.

“I wasn’t mad; I understood what they were going through,” Maurice said afterward. “I just thought they needed some profanity in their life. And I brought some. I don’t excel in a lot of things in life, but f— me, I am good at that.”

“I don’t think he was yelling,” Barkov said of Maurice. “He was just trying to get the point through to us that we need to play harder, need to enjoy it, just play our game. We were just sitting back, watching what was happening.”



Sam Reinhart levels score for Panthers

Sam Reinhart nets the puck off the rebound and levels the score at 1-1 vs. the Bruins.

Florida eventually lost 2-1 in Game 4 after Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy netted the winner (which Maurice unsuccessfully challenged for goalie interference). But when it comes to having a pulse on your players and what they need to hear, both Montgomery and Maurice have been effectively dialed in.

How much of a difference could that insight make in determining how Game 6 ends? The series has been unpredictable at times.

And at this stage, every tiny margin for advantage matters.

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