There’s been a phrase that’s crept to the surface and out of the Bruins’ room in this first-round series with the Panthers. You may see a word or two changed, but it’s about “keeping it between the whistles.” In essence, it’s about staying out of the Florida Man nonsense and the Everglades mud that the eight-seed Panthers want to drag ’em down into.
Sunday’s Game 4 at FLA Live Arena saw the Panthers’ most concerted effort to get the Bruins to abandon that mantra, as the Panthers crosschecked, speared, and instigated for a full 60 minutes. All while the Bruins simply smiled, torched Sergei Bobrovsky like it was Any Game In The 2022-23 Season, and skated off with a 3-1 series lead to their name.
The silliness truly started following the final horn of the first period, as Matthew Tkachuk decided to glide towards Garnet Hathaway and deliver a cheap crosscheck to his ribs and/or back. As Hathaway dropped down to his stomach and writhing in pain, the Panthers’ Sam Bennett came in and delivered a spear right to the groin of a fallen Hathaway. Speaking after the game, Hathaway noted the lack of padding in the spot Tkachuk targeted, and acknowledged that he felt that spearing from Bennett.
In addition to the crosscheck by Tkachuk. https://t.co/1zDuKz2mju— Ty Anderson (@_TyAnderson) April 23, 2023
This was the Panthers trying to goad the Bruins into more nonsense after it worked just minutes prior, as Ryan Lomberg dropped to the ice in search of a penalty call (he found one) when given one return crosscheck from the Bruins’ Pavel Zacha after Lomberg initiated the contact with three straight crosschecks to Zacha.
And aside from matching slashing minors between Tkachuk and Charlie McAvoy later in the game, the Zacha penalty would be the only time the Bruins took the bait from Florida’s antics while the game was still in reach.
“They seem to thrive on that,” Brad Marchand said of the Panthers’ approach. “They’ve built a lot of emotion in their game after the whistles and [when they] create scrums. [They have] a lot of guys that gain momentum from that. Hasn’t really been the way that we’ve played all year, so when we can play hard between the whistles and then kind of skate away, it definitely allows us to stay in the right mindset and play the way we wanna play.”
The final blow-up came late in the third period, and with this game decided, as Tkachuk tried to get under Linus Ullmark’s skin. The 6-foot-5 Bruins netminder opted not to skate away, and instead tried to drop the gloves with Tkachuk. It’s a fight the Bruins didn’t mind seeing Ullmark try to take, and one that the Bruins felt was going to be handled properly no matter how it shook out before the officials got involved and prevented what would’ve been a true stick of dynamite occurrence in this one.
“This team sticks up for each other, so that wouldn’t happen,” Bruins winger Tyler Bertuzzi said of the late-game skirmish. “You know, everybody stuck up for each other. That’s what we do. We try to stay out of it as much as we can between whistles, but that one was one of those things where we all stuck up for each other.”
The Panthers’ approach, led by Tkachuk, felt unhinged. It didn’t feel like this was anything that would’ve given his time life, but rather a desperate last cry from a team that looks overmatched and unable of rattling the Bruins. In any way, it turns out.
“They play a very high emotion game all the way through. They’re very physical [and] they like to get into it after the whistles, a lot of guys talking,” Marchand acknowledged. “That’s their game. They’ve had a lot of success doing that, but we’ve had success playing the way we can and we just have to stick to that.”
Here are some other thoughts, notes, and takeaways from a Game 4 victory for the Bruins…