Bruins beat NHL-leading Panthers for fifth win in six games as playoffs near


BOSTON -- The Bruins are hitting their stride at the perfect time with the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs scheduled to begin next week.

They picked up an impressive 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at TD Garden. It was just the third loss for the Panthers in their last 19 games. Florida entered this matchup leading the race for the Presidents' Trophy with 120 points (57-16-6).

Veteran goalie Linus Ullmark gave the Bruins another strong performance in net, making 18 saves on 20 shots. The B's power play went 0-for-3 and hasn't scored on its last 36 attempts. Despite those power-play struggles, Boston has won five of its last six games with two more to play in the regular season.

Here are three takeaways from Bruins-Panthers.

1) Wild card spot looking more likely

Despite beating the Panthers, the odds of the Bruins finishing with one of the two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference increased Tuesday night.

That's because the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Columbus Blue Jackets to maintain their 3-point lead over the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division. 

The Bruins could still finish ahead of the Lightning and get third place in the division, but that would require Boston to win its final two regular season games plus Tampa Bay losing its last two in regulation. If the Bruins and Lightning finish tied, the first tiebreaker is regulation and overtime wins (ROW). Both teams have 48 ROW entering Wednesday.  

Ranking Bruins' potential first-round opponents in 2022 playoffs

The Lightning have a slightly easier schedule than the Bruins to close out the regular season. Tampa Bay finishes with the Blue Jackets and New York Islanders, while Boston will finish with the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Finishing in the wild card might actually end up being a positive for the Bruins. The first wild card team will play the Carolina Hurricanes in Round 1. The Hurricanes are currently without starting goalie and potential Vezina Trophy finalist Frederik Andersen due to injury, and he reportedly could miss a few games in Round 1.

Playing the Hurricanes, and thus falling on the Metropolitan Division side of the bracket, also would result in the Bruins having to play only one of the Lightning, Leafs or Panthers on the road to the Stanley Cup Final -- assuming they make it that far, of course.

2) Second line is heating up

The Bruins' second line of Taylor Hall, Erik Haula and David Pastrnak is rediscovering its chemistry and scoring form at the perfect time.

Pastrnak returned to the lineup last Saturday after missing nearly three weeks due to injury, and he scored in the Bruins' 3-1 win over the New York Rangers. Taylor Hall also found the back of the net during that victory.

It was Haula's turn to shine Sunday night as he scored twice in Boston's 5-3 win against the rival Montreal Canadiens.

This line put the Bruins on the board twice in the first period Tuesday. Haula finished off a nifty passing sequence to tie the score at one goal apiece.

Hall gave the B's their first lead just six seconds later on a breakaway.

Scoring depth will be critical to the Bruins' success in the upcoming postseason. They cannot rely on the first line to drive the bulk of the offense, especially with first-line left winger Brad Marchand in the midst of his worst slump in a long time.

The Hall-Haula-Pastrnak needs to shoulder a good chunk of the scoring burden, and based on their recent performances, this line is ready to produce in the playoffs. 

3) Play to the end...

The Bruins played a pretty solid first period, but they fell asleep for just a few seconds toward the end of the frame and it cost them.

B's defenseman Brandon Carlo went to the penalty box for slashing and the Panthers wasted no time finding the back of the net. Panthers forward Sam Reinhart scored with 0.3 seconds left on the clock to even the score at two goals apiece entering the first intermission.

Allowing goals in the final minute of a period is a worrying trend for the Bruins as the playoffs near. They have allowed a league-high 19 of these goals this season, including three this month. There's no excuse for this lack of focus. 

This is one area the Bruins must clean up before Game 1 of the postseason.

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