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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Panthers Back In Boston. They’re OK With That



Florida panthers
Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson board their charter to Boston where the Panthers have won five straight playoff games, including Sunday’s 3-2 win in Game 4. // Photos courtesy @FlaPanthers and WSVN-7’s Josh Moser @TheMozKnowz

FORT LAUDERDALE — The Florida Panthers are back in Boston, where they will face the Bruins in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series tonight.

They seem to be OK with it.

Florida, of course, had the opportunity to end the Bruins’ season on Tuesday night in Sunrise.

Boston survived to fight another day, beating the Panthers 2-1 in Game 5.

The Panthers come in tonight having won five straight playoff games at Boston Garden, dating back to last year’s first-round series.

“Overall, just being on the road with this group of guys, spending more time together talking about hockey and other stuff … builds the team chemistry,” captain Sasha Barkov said Thursday.

“It fits our system of play well. We want to play really hard and simple, on the road especially. It’s a great atmosphere. They love their sports, love their hockey.”

As the Bruins did a year ago, the Panthers let their opponent off the mat in Game 5.

Florida was on the verge of elimination last April, down 3-1 in the series, when it beat the Bruins in overtime to force a Game 6 in Sunrise.

Boston is playing with house money after being down 3-1 in this series.

Florida was in a similar situation last year.

“Most important for us is to just think about us and be ready,’’ Barkov said. “The only thing we can do is be at our best. [Friday] the puck drops and that’s it. All the experience when you play in the playoffs, you learn something from every one. They teach you a lot.”

On Tuesday, the Bruins got 26 saves from Jeremy Swayman; Charlie McAvoy’s goal midway through the second period held as the game-winner.

That allowed the Bruins to head home not for the summer, but for at least one more game.

“You play a 7-game series for a reason,” Sam Reinhart said Tuesday night. “It’s not going to always go your way. You try to learn from it. We’re going to recover and we’re going to come back.”

Coach Paul Maurice said Thursday that his team must enjoy the journey.

One that brings them back to Massachusetts.

“It’s going to be an absolute barnburner in there,” Maurice said in Tuesday’s PG-13 postgame press conference.

The next day, Maurice was a tad more reflective.

“It’s all perspective, right? This is the emotion of a playoff series,’’ he said. “We win three in a row, and then the expectations are, ‘if you win three, you should win four.’ And then you don’t. ‘What the hell happened?’

“It’s a tight series. We had 110 points, they had 109; it’s going to be a grinder and you want to be good at that, facing that. We know what it’s like to go into Games 6, 7, elimination situation. This is the first time we have had the lead in a series and we’re dealing with that.’’

Maurice has often pointed to his team’s success on the road to their style of play.

The Panthers do not try to play fancy, instead going hard into the corners, either on the fore or backcheck, to try to pry pucks away from the opposition and create more chances for themselves.

That style of hockey can be easier to play on the road. “We’re not trying to sell tickets,” Maurice has repeatedly said.

Regardless, it works: Florida was tied with Dallas for most road wins (26) during the regular season. The Panthers are 3-1 away from Sunrise in the postseason.

“There is a negative side to playing at home,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery told reporters on Thursday. “When your fans start to boo you, it impacts your players. It really does. We’ve seen it with other teams; We saw it in Toronto, we’ve seen it here.

“It’s not a lack of effort. … Sometimes you’ve got to be patient. It’s easier to be patient on the road. You can be down, 1-0, still play your game. Those things factor in.”

Barkov, before Florida’s Game 4 win on Sunday, said his team enjoyed playing in Boston.

This was after the Bruins were booed off the ice following the first and second periods in Game 3, as Montgomery alluded to.

“The atmosphere is great here,’’ Barkov said. “It’s a great sports city. They love their sports. Not many people here are cheering for us, but we consider that a challenge. We do that, it comes from this room. We are ready to play.”

The Panthers flew to Boston on Thursday afternoon and will return home Saturday — win or lose.

If the Bruins win tonight, Game 7 will be Sunday in Sunrise; if the Panthers win, they will play Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers next week.

Maurice sounds like a guy who certainly is not looking ahead.

The Panthers must live in the moment and worry about one thing tonight: Game 6 in Boston.

“For me, this is about emotion and finding the balance between making sure that we stay disciplined and also have some juice and enjoy the hell out of it,” Maurice said.

“I don’t want to hold my breath for 2 1/2 hours hoping that we win. What kind of life is that? I want the players to feel that from me. That might be the one thing I have, in terms of experience. As you get a little older, you don’t have as many days left coming to the rink and enjoying it.

“You’re in the playoffs. You’ve got a pretty good team. We’ve got a great bunch of guys. Whether we’re down one or two — or up one or two — they can’t be holding their breath here. They’ve got to live it. Enjoy it.”

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