Controversies aside, Panthers have outclassed the Bruins


The Bruins had a total of just 18 shots on net Sunday, the third straight game in which they had fewer than 20.

Jake DeBrusk could not convert against Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on this second-period chance.

The crowd on Causeway Street said it all Sunday night.

For most of the third period in Game 4 of the Bruins-Panthers playoff series, nearly 20,000 fans directed verbal barbs toward the officiating crew on the ice — especially after series antagonist Sam Bennett scored a controversial net-front goal.

Bennett’s equalizing goal was upheld upon review, despite the fact that he shoved Charlie Coyle into Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman.

But as Bruins fans saw a 2-0 lead in the game evaporate — and a 3-1 series edge for Florida take shape — the crowd’s chant changed as the final seconds ticked off.

“Shoot the puck!” was the last command issued by the Garden crowd amid a six-on-four Bruins power play — a task easier said than done against a Panthers defense that has snuffed out Boston’s offense for three straight games.

Such was the mood at TD Garden, an arena that has become a house of horrors for the Bruins when Bennett, Matthew Tkachuk, and the rest of the Panthers come to town.

Bennett’s punch to Brad Marchand in Game 3 and the uncalled goaltender interference will carry most of the headlines at this stage of the series, with Game 5 coming up Tuesday in Florida.

But with the Bruins on the brink of elimination, those story lines are masking the sobering realization that they have been severely outclassed in several areas by Paul Maurice’s team.

And time is running out to correct those issues.

Over the last two postseasons, the Bruins have won six total games on home ice at TD Garden. The Panthers? Five wins over that same stretch on Causeway Street.

“This is a tough building to play in,” said Aleksander Barkov, who put Florida ahead with a third-period goal at 7:31. ”But we just stick with it. We liked how we played in the first period even though they had two goals, but we liked our chances.”

The Bruins’ D-zone struggles against Florida’s forecheck follow a familiar script from last year’s first-round exit. But they also have failed to generate any sustained offensive push against leaky Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (.884 save percentage this series).

After Bennett made it 2-2 with his power-play strike just 3:41 into the third period, the Bruins landed only one more shot on goal against Bobrovsky for the rest of the 3-2 loss. Florida finished with 41 shots on net against Swayman.

Bennett elicited a chorus of boos every time he touched the puck Sunday.

“You hear it all,” he said. “I got a good taste for it last year in Toronto. So I guess I’m used to it. It’s playoff hockey, people are going to say what they want.

“Obviously there’s passionate fans here. They’re going to cheer for their team, they’re going to do whatever they can to pump up their team. We have our game plan. We know what we need to do and we’re not affected by any of that outside noise.”

The Bruins had a total of just 18 shots on net Sunday, the third straight game in which they had fewer than 20. Over those three losses, the Panthers have outshot them, 107-50.

“We wanted to score one, we wanted to play the right way,” Barkov said of the third period, when the Bruins were limited to just two shots on net. “So we tried to spend as much time as possible in their zone and threw a lot of pucks at the net.

“Offense is the best defense, obviously. So I think we did a good job with that.”

Had it not been for Swayman, Sunday likely wouldn’t have been a one-goal game. The Bruins left the ice at the first intermission with a two-goal lead, but the Panthers held a 13-0 edge in scoring chances during five-on-five play (per Natural Stat Trick).

Much like Game 2, when they missed several chances to extend their first-period lead, the Bruins couldn’t land a knockout punch as the game progressed.

They generated nine high-danger scoring chances in the second period — including breakaways from Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, and Coyle — but were unable to convert.

“I thought they were better in the second period on some quick-strike breaks on some plays they made under sticks,” said Maurice. “I thought our sticks weren’t as good tonight as they were last game. I thought we were pretty good in the third.”

Through four games, the Panthers hold a commanding 105-62 edge in shots on goal at five-on-five play, along with a 97-59 advantage in scoring chances.

Swayman has kept the Bruins in the fight, but he can’t do it by himself.

Perhaps a change of scenery to South Florida will provide a remedy for the Bruins.

But if the Panthers continue to dominate every area of this series outside of goaltending, Sunday’s pained crowd might be the last one we see for the Bruins on Causeway Street until September.

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