BOSTON -- TD Garden was an absolute fortress for the Boston Bruins during the 2022-23 regular season.
The Bruins started off the campaign with an NHL-record 14-game win streak on home ice. They finished with a league-best 34-4-3 record at home. They also led all 32 teams with a plus-71 goal differential and the fewest goals allowed (72) in home games.
There were a lot of reasons why Bruins fans felt confident about their team's title chances entering the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and its historically strong dominance at the Garden was near the top of that list.
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But all of a sudden, the rock-solid foundation the Bruins built at the Garden this season is starting to show cracks.
Well, the Florida Panthers just became the first team all season to beat the Bruins in back-to-back games in Boston.
The second win came Wednesday night in Game 5 of the first-round series between these teams. After coughing up three different leads (1-0, 2-1 and 3-2), the Panthers staved off elimination and extended the series to a Game 6 by winning 4-3 in overtime after a brutal turnover by Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark.
There are a bunch of areas the Bruins have struggled in during their three home games in this series, but the most glaring problem has been puck management. Boston turned the puck over 15 times in a 6-3 loss in Game 2. Two of those turnovers directly led to Panthers goals. Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery called some of his team's giveaways that night "catastrophic."
Game 5 was even worse. The Bruins had 17 (!) giveaways. The last one ended up being fatal.
There's been a surprising lack of concentration with the puck from the Bruins in these home games.
“We tend to make big mistakes right now, I don’t know why, the last two games at home," Montgomery said after Wednesday's loss. "We don’t manage our ice or manage the puck, it’s one of the two, and it ends up -- when you’re chasing the game like we did all night, 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3, and then obviously you can't chase the game anymore, you spend a lot of energy. I thought the energy that we spent in the second and the third trying to tie the game up -- I didn’t think we were as sharp in overtime."
The third period has been a huge strength for the Bruins all season, especially at home. Boston had the third-best goal differential (plus-31) and allowed the fewest goals (22) in the third period at home during the regular season. But in Round 1, the B's have been outscored 5-3 in the third period by the Panthers. Instead of executing at a high level and locking down defensively, the Bruins have made silly, uncharacteristic plays that have resulted in pucks ending up in their net.
The Bruins should still have plenty of confidence entering Game 6 based on how well they played in Florida earlier in the series. The B's won 4-2 in Game 3 and 6-2 in Game 4 at FLA Live Arena. They dominated on special teams and Ullmark was fantastic in net.
The key for the Bruins on Friday night will be playing with a sense of urgency -- the same desperation the Panthers showed Wednesday night. The team that has scored first has won all five games so far.
“We’re a confident team. We have to start on time. I think if we start on time and we play the way we did in the second and third period right off the bat, it’s going to give us the best chance at coming out with the series," Bruins forward Taylor Hall said.
"They’re going to play desperate. They’re going to want to win a game at home as well. It’s going to take everyone and it’s going to take our best effort to beat these guys down there. They’re not going to quit. They don’t want their season to end and they showed it tonight.”