The Stanley Cup Playoffs have reached full throttle. While plenty of time remains for any team behind in their series, the first three games of the playoffs have established clear trends. These trends are for each of the 16 teams competing for Lord Stanley’s trophy. In the Eastern Conference, the number one-seeded Boston Bruins and second wild-card-seeded Florida Panthers have served an excellent. The Bruins vs Panthers series is a shocking product through the first four games of the series.
Bruins vs Panthers After Four Games
Boston Injury Struggles
After early season injury struggles, the Bruins fended off injuries to their top players for nearly the entire remainder of the regular season. It is something they have done in their ultimately historic season of play. In unexpectedly poor fortune, the Bruins entered game one inflicted with an illness around the team generally. It left several skaters and both Bruins goaltenders game-time decisions. Ultimately, Boston played an entirely healthy team minus their most important centre in Patrice Bergeron. Originally labelled an absence based on the illness, Bruins coach Jim Montgomery clarified his absence was a result of an upper-body injury. He sustained against Montreal in the last regular season game.
Other injuries for the Bruins include centre David Krejci, who is expected to miss a second straight game. He was pulled just before puck-drop in Sunrise for game three. With Bergeron and the club eyeing a game-five return, Boston will be forced to battle without their top two centres for at least another game. They’ve had strong performances with Charlie Coyle at the top line spot. This did instill some confidence to accomplish victory in game four.
Uncharacteristic Errors for the Bruins and Adjustments
While taking the first game, Bergeron’s absence affected Boston most in game two. Boston fended off two Panthers goals to pull even. Entering the third disaster struck, with the Bruins allowing four goals in the third period and six even-strength goals against in total. Without Bergeron, the Bruins lost a massive portion of the key center stability. This allowed the Panthers to suffocate the defensive zone and hone the overall pace of play in games. With Pavel Zacha as the only stable defensive forward down the middle of the ice, the Bruins massively struggled in these regards. Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk and his linemate in Sam Bennett found their game. Despite a game-three win and series lead, the Bruins instability and resulting inconsistency in the defensive zone emphatically calls for the return of their captain.
Throughout the first three games of this series, the Bruins have inflicted themselves with incredibly uncharacteristic errors. Boston has lacked the consistent intensity required to advance in the postseason. Mainly, with the puck in the defensive zone. As one of the best puck-transporting teams all season, defensive zone giveaways (particularly in the first two games of the series) directly resulted in several goals against. Several of these giveaways impacted by some lack of the degree of intensity when facing the forecheck of the Panthers and in front of the net. Florida has been mostly excellent in these regards, creating discomfort and sustaining possession low in-zone. They got after the Boston defence and marking them unequipped to address the movement in these areas of the ice in the first two games.
Panthers’ Forecheck and Net-Front Play
One trend in the Bruins vs Panthers series is the forecheck. Florida largely appealed to the physically attuned set of play in this series early in the series. In the first three games (particularly game two), Florida has prepared for the Bruins at a stark appearance. The Panthers have employed an especially aggressive forechecking system in-zone. It is a 2-1-2, with the first forechecker applying significant physical pressure. The heavy second forechecker directly hopping on the puck. A hard, proactive third forechecker intends to prevent the weak-side pass that the Bruins have utilized. A maximum strength throughout the season, with active defenders pressing at the blue lines and jamming pucks back into the zone.
With possession, Florida approached the suffocating nature of Boston’s defensive structure and proactivity. Maurice went with strong, agile movement circling the Boston net. In addition, they wore down Boston defenders as they attempt to obstruct lanes, creating opportunities, and sustaining possession. Movement low amplified the high rate in which the Panthers assist shots from the point. Their point shots were more accurate and more effective. Their generation with a tired team defence for Boston less adapt to exit or clear the zone. When Boston attempted to exit the zone, the Panthers defence took advantage of opposition fatigue. They used more active defencemen, particularly when pinching along the boards. Successes in this systematic style include Brandon Montour, who scored twice in game two, and Gustav Forsling, whose expected goals for percentage of 59.89 percent leads the team (Evolving-Hockey).
Despite the early strength of these dynamics for the Panthers, Boston’s adjustment to a man-on-man style in front of their net with a more active centre defensively appeared to limit Florida’s chances significantly, bearing a necessity of further adjustment and counter-play from the Panthers as they trail in the series three games to one.
The next Bruins vs Panthers trend hones in on the matchups. In terms of matchups, deployment of the Matthew Tkachuk line against David Pastrnak worked incredibly on road ice. David Krejci and David Pastrnak are particularly poor in their defensive zone ability and retrievals; the movement of the Hart trophy contender’s line down-low and general low-to-high movement maximized their effectiveness and pounced on turnovers from these players and Boston holistically, allowing Paul Maurice and the Panthers a massive edge in offence play through the first two games. Again, with Jim Montgomery‘s immediate adjustments evident in games three and four, the Panthers will have more difficulty in taking advantage of home ice and capturing ideal line matchups.
Successful matchups for Boston largely include the deployment of Pavel Zacha against Aleksander Barkov, who has been unusually ineffective in most areas of the game when facing the first-year Bruins centre. Zacha, who started the series with Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk, has maintained this degree of play against Barkov, improving the play of Tyler Bertuzzi and David Pastrnak with stabilizing two-way play since the line was formed before game three and into game four.
Future of the Series
Boston’s game four win and three to one series lead strangles the Panthers to their last gasp on the road. For the Bruins, the second win on the road is certain to accelerate the team into taking the series at home, especially considering the potential return of Patrice Bergeron in that game.
While the Panthers have certainly established themselves as excellent competitors and a team undervalued entering the postseason, the Bruins have clearly defined themselves upon intelligence and colourful depth throughout the lineup, bolstering their record-setting season and overbearing strength. Their adjustments as seen in game three are indicative of the team’s versatility and intentional approach in the offseason, which should prove especially difficult for a Panthers team that does not possess the most sustainable offensive structures in the league. Despite their successes early, the Panthers are forced to adjust again or succumb to a technically superior team. Down to their last gasp of the postseason, we predict the Panthers to drown in the mass seas of the Bruins.
Prediction: Bruins in 5
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