The Panthers managed a split in Boston, and they did it with a performance few teams have mustered on the Bruins’ home ice this season.
Florida scored four straight third-period goals – two of them by Brandon Montour – and beat the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins 6-3 on Wednesday night to send Boston to its first loss in 10 games and tie the first-round playoff series.
“In a perfect world, it would have been great to steal two,, but after Game 1 this was all that was on our mind,” said Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk, who had two assists. “We’re going back to Florida even. We’ll take the split and run.”
The league’s top regular-season team last year, Florida didn’t qualify for the playoffs until the final days of this season. Their reward: a first-round matchup with the team that set records for the most wins and points in NHL history.
After losing 3-1 in the opener, the Panthers twice took a lead but found themselves tied 2-2 heading into the third period. Montour scored 22 seconds in and later added an insurance goal as Florida opened a 6-2 lead before Taylor Hall cut the deficit to three in the final minute.
Boston had only lost one other game by more than one goal at home all year. They also won their last eight regular-season games and 15 of their last 16.
“The No. 1 lesson you learn is how hard it is to win in the playoffs,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said. “For a team that’s been really good in the third period for a long time, it’s an opportunity for us to learn from that.”
Games 3 and 4 are in Sunrise, Florida, on Friday and Sunday. The victory flips the home-ice advantage to the Panthers, and assures the series of a Game 5 back in Boston on Wednesday.
“You can’t get too far behind anybody. Certainly not a team like the Boston Bruins, the season they’ve had,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “We’d be more than happy to play seven of them, grind it out. Play as long as we can for as hard as we can.”
Montour’s first goal broke a 2-2 tie, Carter Verhaeghe added an insurance goal, then Montour scored again for Florida and Eetu Luostarinen added an empty netter with 2:25 to play to make it 6-2.
Alex Lyon stopped 34 shots, and Sam Bennett and Eric Staal also scored for the Panthers, who seemed overmatched by the NHL-best Bruins in a 3-1 series-opening loss.
Brad Marchand scored a short-handed goal, and Tyler Bertuzzi also scored for the Bruins, who set NHL records with 65 wins and 135 points. Linus Ullmark made 24 saves.
Bennett, who had been out since March 20 with an undisclosed injury, took advantage of a turnover by Bruins defenceman Brandon Carlo in the Boston zone. Tkachuk kept it in, and slid it ahead to Bennett, who reached out to corral it and then extended to poke it between Ullmark’s pads.
But the Panthers had an even worse turnover with a man advantage, when Anthony Duclair gave it right to Marchand for the short-handed goal that made it 1-1. Two minutes later, the Panthers were back in the lead when Staal beat Ullmark, but Boston made it 2-2 just as a power play was expiring on Dmitry Orlov’s shot that went in off Bertuzzi’s skate.
Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron missed his second straight playoff game. After sitting out Game 1 with what was called an illness, the team conceded that he had an unspecified upper body injury.
The French Canadian Bergeron left after the first period of their final regular-season game – in Montreal. The game meant nothing to Boston except a chance to extend its record for the most wins and points in NHL history.
Former Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who finished the Boston Marathon on Monday in 3 hours, 38 minutes, 23 seconds, was a fan banner captain during the pregame ceremony.
The 6-foot-9 defenceman was the last Bruins captain to skate around the ice with the Stanley Cup.
The series shifts to Florida for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday.