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May 5, 2024 5:39 pm

Bruins get another shot at Panthers after blowing 3-1 playoff lead last season

Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins escaped blowing a 3-1 series lead in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs with a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 7.

Now, the Bruins can exact revenge against the squad which completed a playoff series comeback against them last season when they begin the Eastern Conference second-round series against the Florida Panthers on Monday in Sunrise, Fla.

The Bruins swept the four-game regular season series against the Panthers, but that does not erase the sting of last year when Boston staked a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven affair only to watch it disappear with three consecutive losses, including a Game 7 overtime defeat.

Winning a Game 7 to eliminate the Maple Leafs provides a much-needed confidence boost.

“You could feel there was a big difference in our group all night long,” coach Jim Montgomery said of his squad while talking about his team’s past and present performances in elimination games. “They grew. You saw right from the beginning of the game, we were a different team.”

The Bruins, who finished one point back of the Panthers in the Atlantic Division, were poised to make quick work of Toronto but needed two players to step up for them to finally seal the deal. Goaltender Jeremy Swayman sparkled while posting a 1.49 goals-against average and .950 save percentage through six games.

David Pastrnak, a 110-point player in the regular season, was called out by Montgomery to elevate his play amidst a middling series and delivered the overtime-winning goal.

“He said the stuff he did after Game 6 and I told him, ‘If I’m the coach and you were me, I would say the same thing,’ ” Pastrnak said. “I had no problem with him saying that. He’s trying to bring the best out of every single player.”

The Panthers, who knocked out the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games, will finally be back in action, having last played April 29 when they advanced with a 6-1 series-clinching victory.

Last year’s Eastern Conference playoff champions have spent a long time waiting to find out their next opponent after vanquishing their state rivals.

“I think we all knew it was probably going to be Boston the way that series was going,” winger Matthew Tkachuk said after practicing on Sunday.

Tkachuk said last season’s series victory over the Bruins, who ran away with the 2022-23 league’s regular-season title, was a huge turning point for the Panthers’ organization.

“The effects of that series are still being shown now,” Tkachuk said. “We know that this is a very similar team to last year, a couple of different pieces, but there were a lot of high-scoring games, and I’m expecting it to be more of the lower-scoring side judging by how both teams like to play and how they have success.”

Although the extended break had the potential to give second-line center Sam Bennett time to heal from his suspected hand or wrist injury, he is not yet ready to return.

“He’s at or probably better than I hoped he would be,” coach Paul Maurice said.

In Bennett’s absence, Anton Lundell has moved up the lineup and taken a bigger role. Lundell collected four assists in the opening round.

“He really elevated his game this round,” said forward Sam Reinhart. “I think you saw it before Benny went out, but certainly when (Bennett) did go out. He elevated. He was producing. He was hard on pucks. I think it was pretty easy to see. Nothing but positive things to say about him.”

–Field Level Media

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