Sam Bennett has changed the outlook of the Florida Panthers power play — quite literally.
The Panthers were 0-for-9 with a man advantage in the series when Bennett got his chance to make an impact early in the third period of Game 4 against the Boston Bruins.
Florida was hesitant to make a change through the first three games of the series but they were forced into it when Aaron Ekblad missed Sunday’s game with an injury.
Bennett ended the drought when he picked up a Brandon Montour rebound and slid it into an open cage 6:11 with 34 seconds to go on the man advantage.
But his presence changed more than just the numbers on the statsheet.
His addition allowed Matthew Tkachuk and Sasha Barkov to move to the outside with Sam Reinhart taking on the bumper role flanking the side of the net.
“It puts your two guys with the best hands — with respect to everyone else — Tkachuk and Barkov in a position to work differently with each other and with more room,” coach Paul Maurice said.
“We just need more room out there because [the Bruins] pressure so hard. “Having your guys in the hands area where we can buy each other more time is critical.
“And Sam is so strong net-front that it will draw a player. They will leave the net-front guy off a lot in order to pressure, but Sam there draws a player to him.”
When Ekblad returned to the lineup for Game 5, Maurice liked what he saw from his power play and opted to keep Bennett on the top unit.
That decision, once again, paid off.
The Panthers did not score on their first trip with the man-advantage but they did on their second.
Barkov and Tkachuk facilitated quick passes around the Boston defense until a Tkachuk feed found Reinhart in the slot.
And he wired it past Ullmark to give them a third-period lead.
”The change allowed us to move the puck faster,” Maurice said.
“The first power play we had wasn’t good but we had the right speed on it. That is a pretty wide open shot we could get in the slot so you have to do a lot of good things very quickly to make that happen and they executed better.”
Bennett, of course, was screening Ullmark, taking his eyes away from the slot.
His fingerprints have been all over this series.
Since he returned in Game 2 from a groin injury he had been dealing with since mid-February, Bennett has three goals and four points in four games.
“He’s huge,” Carter Verhaeghe said. “He is fast, he is physical and he makes plays. He gives us another element to our lineup.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
BOSTON BRUINS (ATL1) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 6 (Boston Leads 3-2)
- When: Friday, 7:30
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, TBA
- 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: Florida 4, @Boston 3 (OT); Game 6: at Florida, Friday, 7:30 (TNT, TBA); Game 7*: at Boston, Sunday. (*) — If Necessary.