Despite a battered backend and an early 2-0 deficit, the Boston Bruins managed to pull off a “character win” to continue their season-opening point streak.
Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov opened the scoring as the game began to open up in the first period. Barkov capitalized on the 2-on-1 one by snapping a shot past the glove of Linus Ullmark to give Florida the opening tally at 6:13 of the first period.
In an all-too-familiar sequence, the Panthers capitalized off of a brutal Boston turnover. Rookie Matt Poitras had one of his first major ‘uh-oh’ plays of the season, as he had his pocket picked behind the Boston net by Barkov, who fed Sam Reinhart to put Florida ahead 2-0.
The Bruins finally got on the board during a more productive second period. Following a strong drive to the net, Jake DeBrusk fed Boston captain Brad Marchand, who tapped in his fifth goal of the season.
“That was a great example of us playing fast,” Montgomery said. “It looked like a 2-on-1, and Pasta [David Pastrnak] just made an incredible creative play, and Charlie [McAvoy], who’s been playing great hockey, went in and made a great finish on it.”
After a sleepy first half of the third period, Pastrnak connected with McAvoy for one of the prettier goals in the Bruins’ young season.
As they continued to push for the go-ahead tally during the second half of the third period, the Bruins hit a significant speed bump. Shortly after delivering the equalizer, McAvoy delivered an objectively dirty hit to Oliver Ekman-Larsson, resulting in a match penalty.
Boston’s top-ranked penalty weathered the storm and killed off Florida’s five-minute man advantage, ultimately forcing overtime.
In the 3-on-3 extra session, Pavel Zacha pushed the play up-ice in overtime and buried a wrister far side on Bobrovsky to secure Boston’s come-from-behind victory.
“I was looking where it was open,” Zacha said of his overtime winner. “Far side, I went low blocker.”
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins jumped out to an 8-0-1 start to their season.
Boston’s backend passes one test as another challenge awaits
The Bruins’ backend, relatively healthy through the first eight games of the season, took their first hit of the year Monday night. Matt Grzelcyk exited midway through the first period and did not return for the rest of the game.
Midway through the third, the Bruins suffered another potentially significant loss on the blue line in the short term. With McAvoy’s match penalty, the Bruins had to dig deep working with just four defensemen for the last 10 minutes of regulation and overtime.
“It was a big character win,” Montgomery said. “We lose [Grzelcyk] halfway through the first, we’re down to five D. You got the five-minute major you gotta kill off…just tremendous character by our four defensemen that gutted it out and also just our team coming back from nothing against a real good team.”
With Hampus Lindholm and Kevin Shattenkirk having already taken shifts in overtime, the Bruins had to resort to an unconventional strategy, putting three forwards on the ice in overtime. It worked out for the trio, as Zacha scored the winner just as a defenseman hopped back on the ice.
Montgomery noted postgame that Grzelcyk’s injury was “upper-body, and it’s gonna be a couple of weeks it looks like.”
Additionally, a suspension for McAvoy appears likely, leaving the Bruins without their top defensive pair for at least the short term. The Bruins will likely turn to Providence for reinforcements, with former Blackhawk Ian Mitchell and top prospect Mason Lohrei sitting atop the list of potential callups.
The Bruins found their game in the second period.
In a return to mid-April form, the Bruins struggled mightily with Florida’s aggressive forecheck. Boston was outshot 16-6 in the first period and trailed by two.
Slowly but surely, the Bruins built their game up shift by shift beginning in the second period.
“I think we just tried to simplify our game,” Montgomery said postgame. “Probably had too many, you know, careless plays in the middle, either in the offensive zone or approaching the offensive blue line that led to them coming out wave after wave.”
The Bruins progressively found their stride throughout the second period and overcame the adversity of the third period to come out victorious. Boston made adjustments to counterattack Florida but also rode the momentum of some timely stops by Ullmark, a string of heavy hits by Morgan Geekie and Shattenkirk, and, most importantly, their massive third-period penalty kill.
“We weren’t really taking care of pucks the way that we should have been and supporting each other the proper way,” Marchand said. “Definitely something we can, you know, understand when we come in between periods and look at our game and make adjustments that make a difference.”
The Bruins had been winning in very systematic, responsible ways through their first eight games of the season.
On Monday, they found another way to win – on the fly.