SUNRISE — Regardless of who the Florida Panthers have put in net this series, they have not done their goalies many favors.
The Boston Bruins have consistently driven to the net and have been beating Florida’s defensemen to rebounds, turning second-chance opportunities into third or fourth-chances — and eventually goals
In some cases, Florida’s defensemen and centers have gotten flat-out beaten to the front of the net for Boston goals.
It has cost the Panthers dearly in a series they now trail 3-1 to the NHL’s best regular-season team.
Even with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci out of the lineup, the Bruins’ offensive identity has barely been touched.
Pavel Zacha and Tyler Bertuzzi have both stepped up to cause havoc in front of Florida’s goaltender — regardless of whether it is Alex Lyon or Sergei Bobrovsky — and their star wingers have taken care of the rest.
“The biggest thing is they obviously have a lot of speed and we just got to make sure we’re clearing them out from our net,” Josh Mahura said.
“Our goalies have done a good job making that first save. I think as a group of five, we just have to make sure we’re clearing them out and trying to get those pucks out of the danger area.”
Boston has dominated in those areas 5-on-5 and especially on the power play.
Their offense has come up with three goals from near the front of the net on the power play alone — adding five more 5-on-5.
“They get five men to the net,” coach Paul Maurice said. “They do a really good job of wrapping up and the other is that we’re slightly off to the side on most shots and need to be heavier net front.”
Florida, meanwhile, lagged behind offensively outside of its offensive explosion in Game 2.
After being held to one goal 5-on-5 near the blue paint — and zero power play goals overall — the Panthers were able to string together two in Game 4.
But it was still not enough to keep up with the Bruins.
”I think offensively, we can get in front of the net more and create more traffic,” Sam Bennett said.
”We have to get in front of their goalie’s eyes more and make it a little tougher for him. I think we’ve let them have an easy series that way.”
Bennett has been one of the lone Panthers who has been successful in net-front battles.
His combination of speed and strength has already gotten him two goals in the slot after bursting past Bruins defenders to get there.
That included Florida’s first power play goal of the series in Game 4: a rebound he slid past a sprawled-out Linus Ullmark.
The first rebound they scored on all series.
Matthew Tkachuk’s between-the-legs goal from beside the Boston net marked Florida’s first 5-on-5 goal near the painted area since Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe scored from the slot in Game 2.
Everything past that, Boston’s defense has been able to clear the lane in front of Ullmark to allow him to make the save.
Or turn rebounds into rushes the other way, as Dmitry Orlov has done numerous times in this series.
Regardless, the answer remains the same in both aspects of the game: the Bruins have simply outclassed the Panthers in the dirty areas.
And in the playoffs, those are the areas that matter the most.
”They are a good team and know what it takes to win,” Bennett said.
”They play hard, they play the right way and they’ve done a good a job of sealing us out. But it does really just come down to compete levels and battle levels and we have the guys in the locker room that can compete and will compete.
“We definitely have it in there.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
BOSTON BRUINS (ATL1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 5 (Boston Leads 3-1)
- When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Boston Garden
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Regular Season Series (Tied 2-2): @Boston 5, Florida 3 (Oct. 17); @Florida 5, Boston 2 (Nov. 23); @Boston 7, Florida 3 (Dec. 19); @Florida 4, Boston 3 OT (Jan. 28)
- Last Season: Boston won 2-1
- All-time Regular Season Series: Boston leads 60-38-6, 6 ties
- Playoff History (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 4-1, 1996 (first round)
- First Round Schedule — Game 1: @Boston 3, Florida 1; Game 2: Florida 6, @Boston 3; Game 3: Boston 4, @Florida 2; Game 4: Boston 6, @Florida 2; Game 5: at Boston, Wednesday, 7 (BSF, ESPN); Game 6*: at Florida, Friday; Game 7*: at Boston, Sunday, April 30. (*) — If Necessary.