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PANTHERS 5, BRUINS 0

‘It was men against boys.’ How the Bruins were crushed by the Panthers

Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak, dented for four goals in the second period, tries to see around Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau.
Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak, dented for four goals in the second period, tries to see around Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau.(Joel Auerbach/Associated Press)

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Bruins had followed a formula to survive their early season, injury-borne lineup shuffle, which currently leaves them without Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, and other key contributors.

Keep pucks out of the net, first and foremost, and try to put a few in on the power play. They were leaning on defense and netminding, and leaning hard.

In Tuesday’s 5-0 loss to the Panthers, it all collapsed.

Sloppy as they had been since opening night, the 7-0 debacle in DC referenced in the early weeks of the year as a game from which they needed to rebound, the Bruins allowed four goals in a listless second period. They started poorly and kept sinking, dredging up troubling memories along the way.

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“It was men against boys at times out there,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We’ve got young guys. But when you’re up here, you’ve got to make the plays.”

The coach found no easy explanation for this one, though the injuries would be one. The Bruins did not play the quality team defense that kept results tight of late. Out of sorts, their efforts to catch the charging Panthers sometimes sent them to the penalty box. Florida had six power-play chances, and scored on two. Boston’s power play, dysfunctional of late, went 0 for 4.

The end-to-end rush by Mike Matheson, which made it 2-0, recalled the flying Colorado Avalanche of Nov. 14, a game they lost, 6-3. On the whole, the Bruins had not played defense this poor since Vancouver, on Nov. 8. But that game was 8-5. At least they could score that night, too.

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The Bruins (14-9-4) had not trailed, 2-0, in a game since losing, 3-0, to Montreal on Oct. 27. Their last 4-0 deficit was opening night against Washington.

While the Panthers (11-10-5) are not the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Mike Hoffman one-timer with five seconds left in the second period, which made it 4-0, felt as inevitable as Alex Ovechkin’s power-play hammer on opening night. The Panthers were going to get that eventually, the way the Bruins were defending.

Veteran Roberto Luongo, who last played in the Florida net at Carolina on Nov. 23, showed no ill effects from his knee injury. He made 33 saves, few of them arduous. Halak had one of his worst games of the year, though he was taxed. Florida outshot Boston, 44-33.

Bruins center Colby Cave looks on as Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo makes one of his 33 saves.
Bruins center Colby Cave looks on as Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo makes one of his 33 saves.(Joel Auerbach/Associated Press)

Boston was outshot, 13-6, in the first period, in which Halak was sharp. The Panthers upped their level in the second, scoring four goals and making it a laugher.

For the first of his pair, Hoffman tucked in a loose puck for the 1-0 goal 4:21 in, assisted by several defensive breakdowns.

Related: Ryan Donato got bumped up to the Bruins’ second line, but will he stay there?

The Bruins couldn’t stop blueliner Keith Yandle’s stretch pass, which traveled the length of I-95. Colton Sceviour entered the zone in full flight thanks to a slick Jonathan Huberdeau feed and split the defense pair of Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug. As Sceviour rushed below the circle, Carlo sprawled to poke it away, taking himself out of the play. Sceviour jammed on the brakes and threw the puck off Halak’s backside as he spun off his post to play the pass. Krug tried to protect the empty net, but Halak spun into him. Hoffman zipped in and shoved it home.

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“I couldn’t find it. Torey couldn’t find it,” Halak said. “After that, they scored a couple goals, I guess I need to be better, especially in the second period . . . It’s tough to play a catch-up game. It’s a losing game.”

Mike Hoffman (right) celebrates with teammates after scoring his second goal with 5 seconds left in the second period.
Mike Hoffman (right) celebrates with teammates after scoring his second goal with 5 seconds left in the second period.(Joel Auerbach/Associated Press)

Florida, confident, kept coasting. Matheson, the ex-Boston College defenseman, wound up from behind his net, flew past Ryan Donato and Krug, and beat Halak underneath his right arm at 13:13.

“When you lose like that, a lot of times you do just want to get rid of it. But I think there’s a lot of things to be learned here,” Krug said. “A lot of our habits are starting to catch up to us.”

Huberdeau snapped one between Halak’s pads from the top of the circle to make it 3-0. David Pastrnak was called for a dive several minutes later, washing out an interference call on Dryden Hunt. That call could have gone either way.

Florida’s fourth goal came on the power play, the result of a dicey call. Jake DeBrusk was called for slashing with a minute left in the second, on a play where Sceviour clearly held his stick. Cassidy said officials apologized afterward. The Panthers, naturally, capitalized on the chance.

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Hoffman backchecked and stole the biscuit from John Moore, broke the other way, and blasted a one-timer from Alex Barkov past Halak with five seconds to go in the period.

Barkov (three assists), certainly pleased he didn’t have to deal with Bergeron, threaded the needle to Evgenii Dadonov for a 5-0 lead with 5:34 left in the third period. It was another power-play goal, Carlo watching from the box after cross-checking former Bruin Frank Vatrano.

As Krug said, there was a lot they ought not to take to Tampa on Thursday.

“We saw that game one of the year. The next day we tightened right up and played,” Cassidy said. “I know there’s a lot of pride and character in the room. Some of it’s sitting home in Boston right now, unfortunately, but the guys that are in here have to realize that. If your best players aren’t your best players, especially now, we’re going to have a tough time.”

 Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy didn't like what he saw in Tuesday’s loss to the Panthers.
 Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy didn't like what he saw in Tuesday’s loss to the Panthers.(Joel Auerbach/Associated Press)

Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports.