The Florida Panthers made the best statement they could on Wednesday night in Game 2 of their opening-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins.
While the Bruins may be the best team the NHL has ever seen, the Panthers put them in their place and bottled them up on Wednesday night.
And now we have a series.
A tough, physical, playoff series.
Florida did not play a perfect game on Wednesday night, but they were pretty darned close to it in the third period as it scored the first four goals — with two coming off long-distance calls from Brandon Montour — in a 6-3 win which evened the best-of-7 series at a game each.
The series now heads south to Sunrise as Florida will play host to Games 3 and 4 with Game 5 in Boston next Wednesday night.
And while the regular season does not matter much, it should be noted only two teams beat the Bruins twice during their historic regular season: Florida and Ottawa.
Today, Florida is the only team to beat the Bruins three times this season — and the Panthers come home where they were 2-0 against Boston.
Ancient history, sure, but the Panthers have not looked in awe of the mighty Bruins thus far.
Do they respect them? Absolutely.
But they ain’t scared.
“After Game 1, this was all that was on our mind,” said Matthew Tkachuk, who had the primary assists on two goals including the opener from Sam Bennett at 1:42 of the second to give Florida its first lead of the young series.
“We put ourselves in the position where we have home ice right now and it is about hanging onto it as long as possible. After Game 1, I would have said, ‘just get a win, some how, some way.’ We did and we’re going back to Florida even 1-1. We will take the split and run.”
Florida got a huge lift in getting Bennett back in the lineup as coach Paul Maurice wasted little time in switching up the lines and reuniting Bennett and Tkachuk with Carter Verhaeghe.
That trio caused headaches for teams all season long when it was a thing before Bennett’s injury problems and they were terrific in the reboot on Wednesday night.
Bennett got his opening goal when Tkachuk quickly pulled in a Brandon Carlo turnover and sent it in front. Bennett went hard to the net and poked it past goalie Linus Ullmark.
The Panthers, although the game ended up being tied twice later in the period, were not chasing as they were in Game 1.
Boston tied the score on a shorthanded goal from Brad Marchand after he picked off an errant pass from Anthony Duclair deep in the defensive zone — only Eric Staal made it 2-1 at 14:18 of the second with a nice shot from the slot.
The score was tied at 2 on a power play goal in which Tyler Bertuzzi deflected a Pavel Zacha shot which his left skate with 2:59 remaining in the second, but Alex Lyon made a number of big saves to close the period and keep things right where they were.
The third period belonged to the Panthers as Montour got his first of the period on a 4-on-4 chance by throwing up a shot from inside the blue line a mere 22 seconds into the third.
That set the tone for the rest of the period as Florida worked its lead to three off a goal from Carter Verhaeghe and another from Montour before the Bruins pulled Ullmark and Eetu Luostarinen made it 6-2 with 2:25 remaining.
Things got testy after that with the Panthers taking understandible exception to a high hit from Tomas Nosek on Staal in the corner with scraps breaking out all over the ice in the final minutes.
Boston got a goal back but this one was long over, Florida getting its first postseason win since beating the Capitals in Game 6 last year to end their playoff series drought.
“We knew they were a really good team,’’ Marchand said. “They’re one of the harder teams we played against all year. Again, very complete, very deep. That was with injuries. Now they have a majority of their guys back, especially their top guys. They won the President’s Trophy last year. They didn’t change much. They added Tkachuk.
“They played hard, and we knew that they finished lower than what they are as a team. Again, playing against them a few times this year, I thought they were very, very difficult to play, and they’ve shown up. Like I said, they’re playing hard. We knew it was going to be a hard series. Definitely not one we expected to walk through.”
Florida would have liked a better showing in Game 1 and perhaps taken complete control of this series headed home but it did not work out that way. Boston did a lot of good things in that game and again on Wednesday night.
Only the Panthers brought their best to Boston in Game 2, bottled up the high-scoring Bruins and beat them at their own game.
They say a series does not truly get going until a team loses at home.
Well, this series just got going.
It is now up to the Panthers to hold serve in Sunrise.
It will not come easy.
Nor should it.
This series did not end on Monday, it did not end on Wednesday and it will not come to a close on Friday night, either. There is a lot of hockey left in this one.
“You can’t get too far behind anybody, certainly not a team like the Boston Bruins and the season they’ve had this year,” Paul Maurice said. “You build a little belief in each game. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’d be more than happy to play seven of them. We’d be fine with that, grind it as hard as we can for as long as we can.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
BOSTON BRUINS (ATL1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 3 (Series tied 1-1)
- When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, TNT
- 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: at Florida, Friday, 7:30 (BSF, TNT); Game 4: at Florida, Sunday, April 23, 3:30 (BSF, TNT); Game 5: at Boston, Wednesday, April 26, TBD (BSF, TBA); Game 6*: at Florida, Friday, April 28; Game 7*: at Boston, Sunday, April 30.