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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Comeback Cats Are Back: Florida Panthers Take 3-1 Lead on Bruins

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Florida captain Sasha Barkov celebrates his go-ahead goal with Kyle Okposo, Gus Forsling and Vladimir Tarasenko during the third period of Game 4 Sunday in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

BOSTON — Powered by a two-goal comeback, the Florida Panthers are on the verge of taking down the Boston Bruins with a 3-2 Game 4 win, taking a 3-1 second-round series lead.

Sam Bennett, the face of recent controversy, scored the game-tying goal 3:41 into the third period while Sasha Barkov added the eventual game-winning goal just under four minutes later.

“You hear it all,” Bennett said of the shots taken at him after a controversial hit in Game 3 knocked Bruins captain Brad Marchand out of Game 4.

“I got a good taste for it in Toronto, so you just kinda get used to it. It’s playoff hockey. People are going to say what they want. Obviously there are passionate fans here, they are going to cheer for their team and they are going to do whatever they can to pump up their team. And we have our gameplan, we know what we need to do and we’re not affected by any of that outside noise.”

Bruins coach Jim Montgomery challenged his team to come out and be physical following the hit, which Bennett said was unintentional, and they did.

Charlie McAvoy proved that much by hitting Sam Reinhart so hard that his stick broke on impact just 14 seconds into the game.

And Boston carried that momentum into their first power play of the game 8:45 in.

It took David Pastrnak all of eight seconds to uncork a blast of a slap shot, which beat Sergei Bobrovsky to put the Bruins up 1-0.

Florida bounced back in waves, hemming Boston in its own zone at times, but a failed clearing attempt landed right on the stick of Brandon Carlo, whose knuckleball of a shot beat Bobrovsky, gave his team a two-goal lead in the town where Tim Wakefield made that pitch trendy again.

But it was all Panthers in all areas other than the scoreboard.

Per Natural StatTrick, Florida led 15-5 in shots, 17-2 in scoring chances and 8-0 in high-danger chances.

“We articulated the idea that you can’t control some things,” coach Paul Maurice said. “Jeremy Swayman was real strong early in that game and then there was some strange stuff going on around the net where sometimes you don’t get the breaks.

“But our game was right. Mentally, it was very important that we stayed with it and we wouldn’t see a change in our game in opening it up. Because that would have belied a lack of confidence in our game.”

It was more of the same in the second period until Anton Lundell broke the Florida ice.

Lundell uncorked a one-timer off of a feed from Evan Rodrigues with 5:02 to go in the second period to bring the Panthers back within a goal.

And that’s when Florida gained the confidence to push back.

“We liked the way we were playing in the first period even though they had two goals,” Barkov said. “We liked our chances and just kept going, kept pushing and getting better and then [Lundell’s] line took over, got us going with the goal and we just believed in each other.”

Bennett tied things up 3:41 into the third, and stirred some more controversy in the process.

Right before jamming home a rebound, he appeared to push Charlie Coyle into Swayman, knocking him out of the play and preventing him from getting to the shot.

Montgomery challenged the play for goaltender interference and lost the challenge, but the Bruins believe the league got it wrong.

“The fact is Coyle was pushed into me and I couldn’t play my position.” Swayman said of the play.

The Panthers were certainly not going to argue the call (Why would they?) and rode the momentum even further.

With Reinhart out of the game after taking a puck to the face, Kyle Okposo stepped up to the first line and made a big impact.

He drove he puck up the ice, hit Barkov with a drop pass in the offensive zone and boxed him out an open lane in the slot.

“Losing Reino isn’t the best thing but Okie has been unreal for us ever since he’s come here,” Barkov said. “He is a natural leader, off the ice and on the ice, and you can see it. He didn’t play much in the regular season but he jumped into the playoffs and he is playing playoff hockey, leading the way by playing hard. So it was nice to play with him.”

Barkov did the rest, taking advantage of the open space and beating Swayman high blocker side with a couple of Bruins defenders closing in on him.

“It’s incredible,” Bennett said. “It’s so much fun to watch Barky play and I think for anyone else, that’s a career highlight goal. For him, it’s just another day in the office. So it’s pretty remarkable what he can do.”

The Panthers and to kill off two key penalties without Reinhart in the lineup, which is a big blow to their top unit.

And they made it work.

On the first go-around near the midway point of the third, Florida’s forwards took quick shifts and the fresh players kept jumping on passing lanes and clearing the puck to keep the line moving.

On the second one with 37 seconds to go, the Panthers were able to keep the Bruins at bay just long enough to eek out the win.

They did not allow a single shot on either power play and allowed just two shots in the third period overall.

“That was outstanding,” Bobrovsky said of Florida’s third period. “The sticks, the gaps, everything. All the little details, the guys executed very hard on them.”

Reinhart will be “fine” for Game 5, per Maurice. He had a deep cut in his face after a blocked shot and was “bleeding buckets” to the point where the medical staff could not get the repairs in time for him to return to the game.

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
FLORIDA PANTHERS (ATL1) V. BOSTON BRUINS (ATL2)
FLORIDA LEADS BEST-OF-7 SERIES 3-1
GAME 5

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