Nick Goss

Bruins show great resilience vs. Panthers in best win of the season

This win showed what the Bruins are capable of come playoff time.

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The Boston Bruins were called out by their head coach, Jim Montgomery, both on and off the ice Monday.

He was not happy with the way they started practice and paused the session to do a round of end-to-end sprints, yelling at his team to "wake the f--- up." He met the media for his post-practice press conference and candidly admitted his team wasn't ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He also noted that some players didn't want to be first on pucks in the previous game -- a bad loss to the Philadelphia Flyers last Saturday.

It was the most critical Montgomery has been of the Bruins in a public setting since he became head coach in June of 2022.

All eyes were on the players entering Tuesday night's showdown against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise. How would they respond to their coach's criticism? With first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference up for grabs, the Bruins needed to show toughness, resiliency and the ability to win on the road versus a title contender that plays the kind of heavy hockey that has given the Original Six club trouble in recent playoff runs.

It wasn't pretty, but the Bruins got the job done and secured what was by far their best win of the season so far. The 4-3 triumph at Amerant Bank Arena had all the classic elements of a playoff atmosphere.

"I think Monty's message was we have to come prepared to play in practice every single day, and we weren't the other day, but the way we finished was the way we played tonight," Bruins captain Brad Marchand told reporters postgame, per the team.

"We played direct, and we played hard and competed all the way through. That's what we need coming down the stretch and into the playoffs. I liked the response. I thought we had a good game tonight. Definitely some areas we need to continue to work on, but that's a great team over there. They compete very hard and they're very deep, and they don't have any holes. A good character win."

One of the main takeaways from this matchup was the Bruins' top players performing at an elite level. Depth is vital, especially in the playoffs, but teams typically go as far as their stars take them in May and June.

Charlie McAvoy was the best player on the ice for most of the night. He logged a team-high 25:12 of ice time with one goal, one assist, six hits and three shot blocks. It was the type of all-around performance that has made him one of the league's top-five defensemen.

McAvoy's pass to David Pastrnak to tie the score 2-2 in the second period was fantastic. He saw Pastrnak all alone in front of the net and made a perfect feed.

McAvoy played the majority of his 5-on-5 ice time against the Panthers' high-powered line of Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk. Boston held a 4-1 advantage in shots on net and outscored Florida 2-0 during those minutes. Winning the matchup vs. Tkachuk's line is the key to beating the Panthers.

Pastrnak played awesome, too. He didn't get an assist on Boston's first goal, but his reverse hit on Tkachuk was crucial in the buildup. His second-period goal was his 100th point of the season, making him just the fifth Bruins player ever to reach that scoring milestone in consecutive years. He picked up his 101st point on Pavel Zacha's game-winning goal late in the third period.

Marchand's effort shouldn't go unnoticed, either. His aggressive forecheck helped set up Pastrnak's goal, and he earned the primary assist on Trent Frederic's tally that tied the score 3-3 in the third period.

The Bruins captain also injected some much-needed energy into his team by challenging Panthers defenseman Niko Mikkola to a fight in the second period. Marchand was not deterred by Mikkola's 6-foot-5 frame.

One major issue for the Bruins this season has been closing out games in the third period. The B's own the league's sixth-worst win percentage (.769) when leading after two periods. They had a plus-54 goal differential in the third period last season, compared to just plus-11 this year.

Instead of folding late in the game, the Bruins showed plenty of fight and not only outscored the Panthers 2-1 in the final frame but also locked in defensively. Florida generated only three shots on net in the third period before pulling goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky late.

B's netminder Jeremy Swayman made a couple clutch saves in the final two minutes while the Panthers had a 6-on-5 advantage. Hampus Lindholm was one of several Bruins players who blocked a shot during that key stretch.

The Bruins faced plenty of adversity in this game. They trailed 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2. There were some soft penalty calls that went against them and a couple non-calls that favored the Panthers. Florida tried to bully the B's and overwhelm them with physicality. But the Bruins accepted the game was going to be scrappy and rose to the occasion time and time again.

They made winning plays late when it mattered most, and their best players led the charge. This is the type of victory that can galvanize a team, especially with the playoffs less than a month away. The Bruins desperately needed this kind of win, and it showed what this team is capable of when it plays at a high level.

"I just liked the way that our team kept competing, and we battled for each other," Montgomery told reporters postgame, per the team. "We were in every battle together, all five guys stuck together. That's what we need."

The challenge now is giving this kind of performance on a more consistent basis. And the schedule gives them another opportunity versus a quality opponent Wednesday night against the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning.

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