NOTEBOOK: Panthers head home, prepare for big Game 5 | Florida Panthers

by 24USATVMay 13, 2024, 7:01 p.m. 25
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BOSTON – The Florida Panthers are heading home with one goal in mind.

Taking a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Second Round with a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Sunday, the Panthers will head into Game 5 on Tuesday at Amerant Bank Arena with a chance to punch a return ticket to the Eastern Conference Final.

Prior to flying back home on Monday, players talked about the challenge ahead.

“Excited to get back in front of our crowd with an opportunity to close out the series,” forward Evan Rodrigues said. “The elimination games are usually the hardest. That’s when they’re going to be pushing the most. We have to be prepared to match that intensity.”

Looking at the numbers, things look good for the Panthers.

In their history, they own a 3-0 record when leading 3-1 in a best-of-seven series.

The Panthers also boast an 8-4 record in Game 5s, including a massive 6-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in a series-clinching Game 5 in the Eastern Conference First Round.

As it was then, this game will be a battle between desire and desperation.

“We deal with different emotions,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “They’ve got the desperation advantage, but it can’t cross a line into changing the way they play. We’ve got the desire.”

The last three games couldn’t have gone much better for the Panthers.

Shaking off their 5-1 loss in Game 1, they flipped the script and have looked dominant at both ends of the ice during their wins over Boston in Games 2, 3 and 4.

In addition to leading 15-5 in goals in those three games, the Panthers also posted lopsided advantages at 5-on-5 in shot attempts (149-87) and scoring chances (66-34), per NaturalStatTrick.com.

On special teams, they went 6-for-18 on the power play and 8-for-9 on the penalty kill.

Shutting the door in Game 4, the Panthers gave up just two shots on goal in the third period.

In that period, they also outscored the Bruins 2-0 to secure the win.

“Coming into the third [period], our entire team had the belief that we were going to win this game,” said forward Sam Bennett, who potted the game-tying goal to make it 2-2. “It was so positive in this locker room. We knew we were getting that. It was just a matter of time.”

While some pundits might try to point to various other factors as to why the Panthers are heading back to South Florida with a commanding 3-1 series lead, the numbers don’t lie.

The Panthers have simply been the better team.

When the Panthers needed a spark, it was Anton Lundell that provided it in Game 4.

Cutting the deficit in half in the second period, the 22-year-old forward finally broke through what had felt line an impenetrable wall around Jeremy Swayman when he beat the Bruins goaltender with a snipe from the left circle to make it a 2-1 game.

“The first goal was obviously huge for our team,” said Lundell, who netted his first goal of the playoffs. “We had some good chances earlier in the game, but it’s hard to score in playoffs. We just stuck with it, had some more chances and then finally went it. We got a head start to our game and were able to show the way. That was good by our line.”

Despite his age, teammates contine to be impressed with Lundell’s confidence.

“He believes in himself,” Rodrigues said. “He wants to be a difference maker. For a young kid, it’s easy to have the opposite and shy away from the big moment. I think he’s got a little bit of internal swagger. He wants to get the job done. He likes the challenge. He’s a guy who likes to match-up against other team’s top centermen because it brings out his best game.”

Since Bennett’s return, Lundell’s shift back to the third line has yielded great results.

An elite forechecking trio, the speedy and physical line of Lundell, Rodrigues and Eetu Luostarinen allowed just three combined scoring chances at 5-on-5 in Games 3 and 4 at Boston.

Individually, Lundell leads Florida’s forwards with a 69.17 CF% at 5-on-5 in the series.

“You would not think he’s that young with his approach to professional hockey and being a professional in this league,” captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s working really hard. He wants to learn something every day."

Vladimir Tarasenko and Sam Reinhart are both good to go for Game 5, according to Maurice.

In Game 4, Tarasenko looked a bit stung after taking a shot off his ankle, while Reinhart, who did not finish the game on the bench, was bloodied after taking a puck to the face in the third period.

Thankfully, neither injury appears to be a concern.

In the playoffs, Tarasenko and Reinhart have combined for six goals.

Aaron Ekblad had quite the showing in Game 4.

In addition to leading all Panthers defensemen in both hits (6) and time on ice (22:55), the shutdown stalwart posted a +2 plus/minus rating and recorded an assist on Lundell’s goal.

When he was deployed, the Bruins also couldn’t muster much of anything.

Over the 18:25 he spent on the ice at 5-on-5 in Game 4, the Panthers led 38-11 in shot attempts, 19-3 in shots on goal and 21-6 in scoring chances, per NaturalStatTrick.com.

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