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Sam Bennett, Panthers return home looking to close out series: CBS News Miami's Steve Goldstein

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CBS News Miami Live

SUNRISE - Just when you thought the Florida Panther's series and rivalry with the Boston Bruins couldn't get in juicier, it did.

The Panthers won both games in Boston to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. They can clinch their spot in the Eastern Conference final with a Game 5 win Tuesday night at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise and eliminate the Bruins for the second consecutive year.

Going back to last year's first round upset, the Panthers have now won five straight games in Boston in the playoffs. Sam Bennett thrived on all the attention after his collision with Bruins captain Brad Marchand, that forced him to miss the end of Game 3 and all of Game 4 with an upper body injury.

Playoff Sam
With the Panthers down a goal in the third period, Bennett made contact in the goal crease with Bruins forward Charlie Coyle who subsequently contacted his own goaltender. Bennett scored on the play to tie the game at two. Boston challenged the ruling on the ice of 'good goal' for goalie interference, but the officials upheld the call and counted the goal. Bennett clearly has helped the Panthers frustrate the Bruins, some Boston media, and the fan base. He also did not hide as he went on national television to give his side of both incidents in a post-game interview calling them "hockey plays". Bennett also said he'd never been booed like that before and enjoyed the atmosphere and intensity.

Power Up
In Game 4 the Bruins backed up their words, trying to respond physically. They paid a big price, taking numerous undisciplined penalties. In both games on the road, the Panthers made Boston pay with a strong power play.

Owning Zone
Regardless of opinions on officiating, the Panthers have dominated the series for nine and a half of the twelve periods played. In Game 4, they outshot Boston 41-18 and had an 80-43 advantage in shot attempts. Most of the series has been played in the Boston zone as the Panthers have buzzed around the Bruins net. Goaltender Jeremy Swayman has done all he can, for as long as he can, to keep the Bruins in games. And with Boston realistically needing to win Game 4 and avoid facing elimination, the Panthers dominated the final period outshooting the Bruins 13-2. Matthew Tkachuk is his usual impactful playoff self and the third line of Eetu Luostarinen- Anton Lundell-Evan Rodrigues has been a difference maker.

Another Barkov Wow Moment
Aleksander Barkov has had his best season in the NHL. In the playoffs, the 11-year veteran has been even better. Already dominant defensively Barkov has supplied big offense to the team and scored timely goals. In Game 4, with the score tied in the third period, he held the puck in the Bruins Zone at the blue line, came right down the middle of the ice showing his acceleration, strength, hockey IQ, and skill, and scored the game winning goal on a play that few hockey players in the world can make. Barkov is playing like a man on a mission and showing by example why he is the perfect captain for this team.

Dig Deeper
Like the Lightning, the Bruins are being overmatched by the Panthers' depth. In game four the Panthers got a goal and four assists from the bottom part of their forward lineup. The third line has been a matchup nightmare for opponents and players like Kyle Okposo have been key contributors. General manager Bill Zito's moves over the last 10 months to fortify the lineup is paying off in a big way at the most important time of the year.

PK Prowess
Despite the media and some Bruins chatter about officiating favoring the Panthers, consecutive penalties called on Gustav Forsling and Aaron Ekblad gave Boston two power plays late in game four that the Panthers killed off. The penalty kill kept Sergei Bobrovsky mostly clean without many high danger scoring chances.

Closing Time
Since Amerant Bank Arena opened in the late 1990s, Panthers fans had only seen a series clincher one time, and that was when New Jersey beat the Panthers in Game 7 in 2012. On Tuesday night the home fans have a chance to watch the Panthers clinch a series for a remarkable third time in the last 12 months. Matthew Tkachuk's epic goal against Carolina last year put the Panthers in the Stanley Cup final. The Panthers then blew out Tampa Bay a few weeks ago to win that first round series in five games against their cross-state rival. Now the team has another chance to win a series in just five games. In fact, the last 3 series Florida has won, have been in 5 games or less.

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