After all the dancing, yapping, and flirtation with fisticuffs at the end of Game 4, Matthew Tkachuk finally landed a haymaker on Linus Ullmark and the Bruins.
It was an overtime playoff winner, the final blow of a back-and-forth Game 5 Wednesday night that extended the Panthers’ season and denied the Bruins a closeout opportunity on their own sheet.
Panthers 4, Bruins 3, with Tkachuk sending in a gift after Ullmark’s gaffe.
The clock ticking toward six minutes gone in OT, the Bruins went for a change after Brad Marchand and Pavel Zacha missed connections in the offensive zone, the puck settling behind Ullmark’s net at the other end. With Carter Verhaeghe bearing down and Matt Grzelcyk marking him, Ullmark flubbed a backhand feed up the wall.
Verhaeghe’s centering pass hit Ullmark in the skate, as the netminder flailed back into position, and Tkachuk curled and tucked home the winner.
Game 6 is 7:30 p.m. Friday in Sunrise, Fla.
“I’ll have to look at it, tonight or tomorrow, and see what I could have done better,” said Ullmark, calm and matter-of-fact in his manner. “Maybe I should have rimmed it. Maybe I should have gone up the middle. Hard to say. This is what happened. It’s all about having the mind of a goldfish.”
It was an unforgettable finish for the Panthers, who pushed aside elimination with one of their most memorable playoff wins. Sergei Bobrovsky took full control of their net, making 44 stops and robbing Brad Marchand on a breakaway in the dying seconds of regulation. Verhaeghe’s three assists came off Bruins turnovers.
And Tkachuk rocked the Bruins with a stiff shot to the jaw, cutting their series lead to 3-2.
Anthony Duclair scored the opening goal (8:26 of the first) when Tyler Bertuzzi gave it away in front. After failed clears and lost puck battles, Sam Bennett made it 2-1 with 1:08 left in a second period the Bruins dominated (18-8 shots edge).
It sullied the return of Patrice Bergeron, who tied the game at 4:33 of the third on a gorgeous deflection of a Marchand pass from the point. That made it 2-2, the Bruins’ second time knotting it. Marchand tied the game at 1 with a power-play rebound at 2:27 of the second.
Taylor Hall tied it for a third time, setting up OT with his turnaround snipe at 9:16 of the third.
“Every time we tied it up, they seemed to have an advantage afterward,” said Hall, who scored his fifth goal in five playoff games (5-3–8) on Boston’s 40th shot of the night.
“We’re a confident team. We have to start on time. If we play like we did in the second and third period right off the bat, it’s going to give us the best chance at coming out with the series.”
In a game overwhelmingly controlled by the Bruins — they outshot the visitors, 47-25, and gained chance after chance off the cycle — their outsized mistakes did them in.
Why couldn’t they close it out in Boston?
“For whatever reason, we didn’t start on time. They were the better team in the first period,” said Bruins coach Jim Montgomery, who tried numerous line combinations to spark his forwards. “We tend to make big mistakes right now. I don’t know why. Last two games at home, we don’t manage our ice or manage the puck. It’s one of the two.
“When you’re chasing the game like we did all night … you expend a lot of energy. I thought the energy we spent in the second and third trying to tie the game up, I didn’t think we were as sharp in overtime.”
Ullmark made some sprawling saves early, the Bruins failing to have the putaway start they wanted. If Nick Cousins lifted a backhand with four minutes left in the first, with Ullmark on his side, it would have been 2-0. Ullmark also kicked out a Cousins two-on-one bid in the second, and stepped up to clear the puck himself when it eluded Dmitry Orlov at the far blue line.
Not all of Ullmark’s puck touches were as clean.
“Oh, he’s been a rock for us all year,” Bergeron said, shrugging off a question as to how the Bruins can pick up their netminder. “He’s given us a chance to win every time he steps out there. He can’t be too hard on himself. We’re a team. It’s about what we do together as a unit of six. You win and you lose as a team.
“He’s a tremendous goalie. He’s probably the best goalie, and probably going to win the Vezina this year. We’re all there for each other. We’ve always said that. Chins up for everyone.”
After a so-so first, Montgomery started the second period with Hall-Charlie Coyle-Garnet Hathaway. Coyle drew a holding penalty, and Montgomery left his first-unit power play on the ice for nearly the whole advantage. It paid off. Marchand followed his own shot, which Bobrovsky dropped, and poked it home at 2:27.
That brought Marchand to 4-1–5 in five games this postseason. Outside of that goal and Bergeron’s brilliant tip, the Bruins’ power play (2 for 5) was active but ineffective. They landed seven shots on net in those five bids, and could not strike when the Panthers handed them a golden opportunity with 3:35 left in regulation.
The Panthers put six skaters on the ice, late in a 3-3 game with their season on the line.
Rather than saddle coach Paul Maurice with Don Cherry-like ignominy, Florida snuffed it out. Marchand looked backdoor for Bertuzzi. Bergeron snapped one off the wing. Neither chance went.
“It’s a game of inches,” Bergeron said. “You’d like to take care of pucks a little better in our zone. You don’t want to give them freebies, if you will.
“It’s playoff hockey. We’re moving onto Game 6.”