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What the Bruins need to do to beat the Panthers and force a Game 7

Brad Marchand on Sam Bennett's controversial hit: "He got away with one"
Brad Marchand on Sam Bennett's controversial hit: "He got away with one" 03:50

BOSTON -- In last year's NHL playoffs, the Florida Panthers stunned the top-seeded, historically great Boston Bruins in the first round by pulling off a 3-1 comeback. The Bruins are now looking to return the favor in their second-round showdown in the 2024 postseason. 

The Bruins host the Panthers for Game 6 at TD Garden on Friday night, and are looking to force a deciding Game 7 Sunday back in Sunrise, Florida. Boston has never overcome a 3-1 series deficit over their 100-year existence. 

It has been a wild series so far, with the Bruins winning Game 1 in blowout fashion. They then proceeded to drop three straight, including two at home, as the Panthers outscored the B's, 15-5. Florida's Sam Bennett knocked Bruins captain Brad Marchand out of the last two games (Marchand could potentially return Friday night) with a nasty hit early in Game 3 and then scored a controversial game-tying goal in Game 4, further adding to this budding postseason rivalry.

Boston won Game 5 on Tuesday night with their most hard-fought effort of the series, fending off a late push by the Panthers for a 2-1 victory in Florida. They'll look to keep that rolling in front of their home fans Friday night, though the Bruins have lost five straight home playoff games to the Panthers going back to last year. 

What's the best way to make up for all those home losses? A home win to force a winner-takes-all Game 7. Here's how the Bruins can get it done Friday night.

Support Jeremy Swayman

Swayman has been awesome in net for Boston, but the Bruins haven't always been awesome in front of him. To say that the 25-year-old goalie has been peppered with shots by the Panthers would be an understatement. 

The Bruins have allowed 34 shots per game so far this series, leading to a pretty heavy workload for Swayman. He still leads all netminders with a .933 save percentage this postseason, but it was just .896 with a 3.59 goals-against average from Games 2-5. The Panthers outshot the Bruins, 136-78, over that span.

The Panthers outshot the Bruins by 57 in their three wins this series, including a ridiculous 41-18 edge in Game 4, which Florida won 3-2. But in Game 5, the shots were 29-28 in favor of Florida. 

The biggest factor last game? The Bruins blocked 21 shots, including six over the final three minutes after Florida pulled goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and sent out an extra attacker. Everyone in a Boston sweater was willing to put themselves in front of the puck on Tuesday night.

Swayman stood on his head over those final three minutes as well, making a point-blank save in the final seconds to preserve the win. There's little doubt that he'll be a wall in net once again on Friday night.

But it would be a big help if the team in front of Swayman keeps blocking shots and starts really testing Bobrovsky on the other end.

Boston's top guys need to wake up

A Marchand return would obviously be a huge boost for Boston both emotionally and on the ice. His 10 points this postseason are tied for the team-lead with Jake DeBrusk (who leads the B's this series with two goals and three assists) despite missing the last two games.

But Marchand was fairly quiet over his two games and two periods against Florida, notching just a pair of assists. And whether Marchand returns or not, Boston's other top players need to wake up and step up.

David Pastrnak had a number of good chances Tuesday night, but has put just one of his 13 shots by Bobrovsky this series. Charlie Coyle has just one goal and three assists, and has just six shots over the last four games. He's also lost 13 more faceoffs than he's won this series. Center Pavel Zacha has no goals this postseason, and his next postseason tally will be the first of his playoff career.

Each of them should talk to Charlie McAvoy, who woke up in a big way in Game 5 with a goal, an assist, four blocked shots, and three hits. He needs to keep that going on Friday night, and hope his teammates follow suit.

Bruins need to balance the special teams battle

The officiating has been, shall we say, slightly unbalanced throughout the series. But the Bruins haven't done themselves any favors (can they please knock off this Too Many Men nonsense!) and need to play much more disciplined hockey on Friday night.  

The Bruins have let some Panthers antics get to them and have had to play shorthanded 25 times this series, with Florida getting six power plays each in Games 2, 3, and 4. The Panthers took advantage of six of those power plays over that three-game span.

In Game 4, the Bruins were a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, winning battles and blocking shots in those desperate moments. Swayman was also lights out, stopping all five shots he saw on while the the B's were on the PK.

On the flip side, the Bruins could also be a lot better when the go on the power play. Boston has just one power-play goal in 14 tries this series. A much better effort out of their special teams could be the difference between staying alive in the series and staying home for the offseason on Friday night.

Bruins need to start strong and not let up

The pressure is all on Florida now, but that doesn't mean Boston shouldn't play desperate. The Bruins came out aggressive in Game 5 and led 1-0 after the first period, outshooting the Panthers, 13-4.

But trailing after the first 20 minutes hasn't fazed Florida this postseason. The Panthers are 2-1 when trailing after the first period, and have outscored the Bruins 16-8 after the opening frame. 

Coming out strong and staying strong for 60 minutes is imperative for the Bruins on Friday night if they want to force a Game 7 on Sunday.

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