Nick Goss

Bruins penalty kill gives worst performance of playoffs in Game 3 loss

Boston's penalty kill had been stellar in the playoffs before Friday's matchup.

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BOSTON -- Great penalty killing is one of the primary reasons why the Bruins reached the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that unit was very good in the first two games against the Florida Panthers.

But the penalty kill took a giant step back in Game 3 on Friday night.

The Panthers power play was firing on all cylinders and scored four times in six opportunities en route to a 6-2 win that gives Florida a 2-1 series lead entering Sunday night's Game 4 at TD Garden.

"I think they made adjustments. Obviously, they have lots of really good players, and I think their power play has been good all year," Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk said postgame.

"I still have confidence in our penalty kill. I have to do a better job, I was out there for one of (the goals). It's just about making the simple plays, executing, simple clears, trying to make zone entries hard. It's the simple things that we need to keep doing, that's why our penalty kill was doing so well (before Game 3)."

The Bruins finally started to tilt the ice in their favor in the second period after an extended shift in the attacking zone that produced a couple really good scoring chances. The B's were finally playing with some energy after a sluggish start to the game. But all of that momentum came to an immediate end when Mason Lohrei took a double-minor high-sticking penalty with 5:23 left in the period.

The Panthers quickly scored twice on the power play to extend their lead to 3-0.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored the first goal.

Matthew Tkachuk fed a pass to Carter Verhaeghe in front of the net for the Panthers' second goal with the man advantage.

The Panthers also scored twice on the power play in the third period. The first was a Brandon Montour goal that increased Florida's lead to 4-0. Evan Rodrigues scored his second goal of the game to put his team up 6-2 with 51 seconds remaining.

Jakub Lauko's goalie interference penalty that led to Montour's power-play tally was a controversial call. It looked like Aaron Ekblad pushed Lauko into Panthers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, but the B's forward still went to the penalty box.

"I was trying to get to the net and I ended up in the goalie," Lauko said postgame. "I felt the defenseman was holding me and kinda pushing me inside. I don't know. What am I supposed to do to avoid it?"

The Bruins entered Game 3 with the third-best penalty kill in the entire playoffs at 93.3 percent (28-for-30). They allowed only one power-play goal (Game 2) in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs and killed eight of nine penalties over the first two games versus the Panthers in Round 2.

What led to the penalty kill's struggles in Game 3? An inability to clear the puck, not defending the front of the net well enough, not blocking enough shots and losing too many battles along the boards were among the most glaring issues.

"You've got to tip your cap to their power play. They have a lot of talented players, and they get pucks to the net," Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said postgame. "We can go to the drawing board and look at what we can do better. I haven't watched the film, but being on the ice, we know they like to funnel pucks and use the bumper. We can do a better job of everything." 

Another problem for the Bruins is they're just taking way too many penalties. Boston has been shorthanded 36 times through 10 playoff games, which is four more than any other team. The Bruins (36) and New York Rangers (32) are the only teams that have been shorthanded more than 27 times.

The Bruins have given the Panthers six power plays in each of the last two games, and that's a recipe for disaster when Florida can put so much high-end offensive talent on the ice, including Sam Reinhart, Aleksander Barkov, Tkachuk and Verhaeghe, among others.

"We gotta stay out of the box. No matter what we think of the refs or what's going on," DeBrusk said.

The B's have proven they can be effective against the Panthers' power play. They went 11-for-11 against this group over four regular season matchups, in addition to the 8-for-9 start in the second round.

The Bruins need to rediscover that success quickly to avoid falling into a 3-1 series deficit. Boston is struggling to find the back of the net at even strength (two or fewer goals in five of the last six games) and its power play hasn't scored since Game 4 of the first round.

The Bruins cannot afford to be giving up power-play goals when their 5-on-5 scoring has been so lackluster.

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