Bruins’ stars lead the charge in emotional win over Panthers: ‘Playoff atmosphere’

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SUNRISE, Fla. — In Tuesday’s third period, David Pastrnak did not get all of Sam Reinhart when he forechecked his opponent along the left-side boards. But Pastrnak bumped Reinhart enough to delay the forward’s clearing attempt.

That’s all the time the Boston Bruins needed.

With Pavel Zacha closing in as the second forechecker, Reinhart rushed the puck up the boards. He did not get enough behind his clearing attempt. 

Parker Wotherspoon picked off the puck at the left point. Wotherspoon’s chip deflected off Niko Mikkola’s stick and onto Pastrnak’s blade. As Pastrnak settled the puck, Zacha raced toward the far post. Zacha knew his linemate would find him. Pastrnak’s pass bounced off Zacha’s skate and past Sergei Bobrovsky at 17:39 for the go-ahead goal.

“I saw Pasta kind of look at me just before he got the puck,” said Zacha after the Bruins’ 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers, which put them two points clear of their rival in the race for first in the Atlantic Division. “So I was like, ‘I just have to find a way to get my body in there.’ He tried to find me. It hit my skate. But I knew he was going to try to look for me on the back post.”

There was little artistry involved in the sequence. The lunchpail effort looked beautiful to Jim Montgomery.

“You’ve got to win in the trenches if you’re going to win in the playoffs,” said the Bruins coach. “You’ve got to win at the net front. You’ve got to win wall battles. You’ve got to win at the blue lines. And you’ve got to win at the goal lines.”

The Bruins were coming off two straight regulation losses. Montgomery had to stop practice early on Monday and order up a round of sprints because his players were not ready to execute. 

The Bruins allowed a goal to Evan Rodrigues on the opening shift. It was one of three times they fell behind by a goal.

So the fact that the Bruins punched back three times against the ornery Panthers and countered with the go-ahead knockout was most pleasing to their coach.

“I loved it,” Montgomery told NESN postgame. “I loved the way we stuck together out there. It was (a) playoff atmosphere. It’s what we’re going to see in a couple weeks. I loved the way we responded. Even though we fell down 1-0 in the first minute, gave up a goal in the first period in the last minute — usually those are things that end up costing you — we just kept forging ahead.”

The winner was one of Pastrnak’s three game-breaking plays. In the first period, Pastrnak helped the Bruins even the score with a musclebound move. In the offensive zone, Pastrnak threw a reverse hit on Matthew Tkachuk that sent the power forward tumbling to the ice. Moments later, Charlie McAvoy smoked a slap shot from inside the right faceoff dot. Pastrnak did not record an assist on the play.

In the second, stiff forechecking by Zacha and Brad Marchand freed up McAvoy to settle the puck on the right-side wall. McAvoy spotted Pastrnak lurking in front and connected with a tape-to-tape pass. Pastrnak went upstairs on Bobrovsky for his 45th goal and 100th point. The goal tied the game at 2-2.

Pastrnak led all team forwards with 22:50 of ice time. He had four shots on net, also a team high. After the game, Pastrnak left the dressing room quickly to receive treatment. He was not available for comment.

The right wing had company leading the charge. McAvoy (goal, assist) led the Bruins with 25:12 of ice time. The No. 1 defenseman was active and physical in all three zones.

Marchand was also in the mix. Halfway through the second period, the 5-foot-9 Marchand got into it with the 6-foot-5 Mikkola. After the two traded cross-checks, Marchand took a swing at his taller opponent. Mikkola responded with a takedown. Both players were also called for roughing.

Then in the third period, after Carter Verhaeghe gave the Panthers a 3-2 advantage, Marchand helped his team scratch back again. With Rodrigues off for delay of game, Marchand started the game-tying rush by blitzing up the ice with the puck. He picked his way through Florida’s penalty kill, gained the offensive zone and connected with Trent Frederic. As soon as Frederic received the puck, he got it off his stick and past Bobrovsky, making it a 3-3 game.

“We’re down three times, we keep coming back,” Montgomery said. “Just believe in our process, believe in our identity and keep playing.”

Jeremy Swayman (three goals allowed on 21 shots) is still trying to find the peak level of his game. But Swayman was there when it mattered at the end. With Bobrovsky off and the Panthers pushing, the goalie turned back with Verhaeghe with 20 seconds remaining in regulation.

“Great save,” said Montgomery. “You never worry about Swayman’s second, third efforts. It’s natural. And for our team, the second and third effort was really good.”

(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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