Bennett's return helped Panthers win battle at center in Game 2 vs. Bruins


BOSTON -- Even without Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins still won the matchup at center in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers on Monday night.

Game 2 was a far different story.

Bergeron (injury) was sidelined again Wednesday night, and his teammates couldn't pick up the slack in a 6-3 loss at TD Garden that evened the series. 

The Panthers' improvement down the middle played a major factor in their victory.

Should Bruins make goalie switch in Game 3? No, that would be a panic move

Sam Bennett coming back after being out since March 20 with a groin injury was an immense help for Florida. His return to the second-line center spot pushed Anton Lundell down to the third line and Eric Staal to the fourth line -- roles they are much more suited for. 

Bennett got the Panthers on the board in the first period after a turnover by Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo. The veteran center was all alone against Linus Ullmark and beat the Bruins goalie to give his team a 1-0 lead. Bennett now has four points in five games versus the Bruins this season.

The Bruins tied the score with a Brad Marchand shorthanded goal later in the second period, but it took only two minutes for the Panthers to respond and regain the lead on a goal from Eric Staal. 

Three of the Panthers' four centers -- Aleksander Barkov (assist), Bennett (goal) and Staal (goal) -- found the scoresheet. This group also combined to go 26-for-49 (53 percent) in the faceoff circle, while also tallying six hits and only two giveaways. 

Bennett was the catalyst. In addition to his goal, he tallied a team-high seven shots and brought a high level of physicality each shift. The Panthers fed off his aggressiveness in all three zones.

"Matthew Tkachuk has had a career year; Eetu Luostarinen has had a career year; Carter Verhaeghe has had a career year, and all three of those guys have played with Sam Bennett for the better part of the year, and that’s his strength. He drives the play," Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said.

"He plays so damn hard and drives the play. What do they always say about great players? They make the players around them better. So, Sam has been so important to us this year – even in a heart and soul (way) – he gets injured and we lose him; we lose the next four games. Now we’ve got to find a way to rally around that, but he’s been fantastic for us."

The Bruins' centers fared much worse Wednesday night compared to their impressive performance in the series opener.

Pavel Zacha played fantastic in Game 1 with an assist and a 10-for-17 mark on faceoffs. He stepped into Bergeron's spot at first-line center and consistently drove play in Boston's favor. Zacha was far less effective in Game 2, going 6-for-19 on draws and failing to tally a point at even strength. David Krejci has mostly been a non-factor through two games with one power-play assist and four shots in 40 minutes of ice time. He was invisible Wednesday night.

Charlie Coyle was one of Boston's best players in Game 1 but made little impact in Game 2. Tomas Nosek has been the Bruins' most consistent center thus far. He picked up an assist and went a team-best 9-for-13 on faceoffs in Game 2.

Not only did the Bruins miss Bergeron's scoring and elite defense at center, his presence and leadership on the bench would have helped in the third period when the game was quickly slipping away from the Bruins. After being the best third period team in the league all season, the Bruins offered little resistance over the final 20 minutes and were decisively outplayed during that stretch (outscored 4-1).

“I just think when we fell down 4-2, I didn’t think we regrouped or reset," Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said. "Most of the year, we’ve been able to take a breath, reset and go back to our game. We didn’t go back to our game when it went 4-2. I thought we got back to our game in the first two periods, every time we fell behind we got back to our game."

The Panthers are fully loaded at center again with Bennett back in the fold. It's a deep, talented and physical group. They played with a ton of confidence in Game 2, and that energy should extend into Friday night's matchup in front of their home fans. 

The Bruins' centers, with or without Bergeron, need to respond in Game 3 or the Panthers will take control of the series.

Contact Us