(Photo Credit: Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

By: Tom Calautti | Follow me on Twitter @TCalauttis and Linktree

When the schedule came out for the 2023-24 NHL season, Bruins fans had this game circled on their calendars. The Florida Panthers returned to the TD Garden for the first time since dashing Boston’s Stanley Cup hopes in game seven of the first round on TD Garden Ice.

The first period conjured flashbacks of last year’s series as the black and gold went down two goals early and got thoroughly outplayed by Florida. Captain Brad Marchand started the rally with a tap-in goal off a Jake Debrusk feed early in the 2nd, and Charlie Mcavoy continued his hot streak with the game-tying goal in the third. That opened the door for Pavel Zacha to play hero, attacking Panther’s goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky on a partial breakaway and snapping a shot low to the blocker side for an overtime goal. Here’s what I saw:

Line Combinations Here to Stay?

Jim Montgomery has been playing matchmaker with his lines all season, and last night was no different. Montgomery rolled out a top-nine forward corps that looked like this: Marchand-Zacha-Pastrnak, van Riemsdyk-Coyle-Debrusk, and Frederic-Poitras-Geekie. This lineup was outshot 16 to six, out-chanced 10 to six, and outscored two to nothing.

The Bruins coaching staff went into the locker room after the first period and put their line combinations back into the blender, creating a new set of lines that dominated play over the final 40 minutes. Those lines looked like this:



van Riemsdyk-Geekie-Frederic

In 10:18 of ice time, the Pastrnak, Zacha, and Poitras unit dominated play together, out-chancing the Panthers eight to two and producing the game-tying goal.

Marchand’s new unit was responsible for the first goal of the game and expertly limited the Panther attack while on the ice. Geekie was arguably Boston’s best player all night. When the coaching staff united him with Frederic and van Riemsdyk, they dominated play and generated five high-danger chances to the Panthers’ one in 7:34 of ice time.

These line combinations were responsible for turning the tide in last night’s game, and they could be a precursor for what’s to come. With Poitras seemingly here to stay and Danton Heinen finally signed, Montgomery can solidify his top nine and roll out these lines over the next few games to see if they truly have something special.

Marchand Makes a Case for Poitras

Boston’s rookie phenom Matt Poitras had an encouraging game despite having a turnover, which led to Florida’s second goal. He fit in seamlessly, centering Pastrnak and Zacha, and bounced back nicely despite his costly mistake.

When asked about Poitras’ chances of making the team, Marchand said, “He’s definitely made the best case possible for himself. He’s a heck of a player. He’s going to have a very long career. He does all the right things on and off the ice to be a good pro. It’s very impressive to see at his age.”

According to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Ty Anderson, the Bruins organization will make its final decision on Poitras later today. With how well the youngster has played and a vote of confidence from his captain, I think the team would be crazy not to keep him.

Mcavoy Facing a Suspension

Charlie Mcavoy scored the game-tying goal in last night’s contest and has six points in his previous five games. He’s been one of the best defensemen in the NHL to start this season, and the Bruins may have to play the next several games without him. Midway through the third period, Mcavoy came flying through the low slot in the offensive zone and clipped the chin of Panthers defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

To call Mcavoy’s hit unnecessary is an understatement. The Bruins had an all-out assault on the Panthers when Mcavoy made the questionable move, generating several high-danger chances and hemming them in their zone. Ekman-Larsson didn’t have the puck at the time of contact and wasn’t particularly engaged in the play either.

The officiating crew issued a five-minute major to the Bruins assistant captain immediately after the play. Upon review, they changed their call, giving a match penalty and ejecting Mcavoy. Panthers coach Paul Maurice thought Mcavoy was head-hunting all game. When asked about the hit, he said, “I thought it was exactly like the hit on Verhaeghe in the first.”

Due to the nature of the penalty issued on the play, Mcavoy should expect a call from player safety and could be starring down the barrel of a suspension.

Odds and Ends

  • Pavel Zacha has played well all season, and he’s finally putting up the numbers to back it up. He has five points in his last five games, and his overtime goal was textbook. He looked comfortable on the wing, and his confidence seemed to be growing.
  •  Matt Grzelcyk left Monday’s game early, and Jim Montgomery said he expects him to miss a couple of weeks. With Mcavoy facing suspension and Grzelcyk hurt, is it time for Mason Lohrei to debut?
  •  Marchand’s goal marked the beginning of the rally, but Morgan Geekie may have lit the fire by throwing a brutal check on Nick Cousins, sending him flying into the bench.
  •  More on Geekie, he looked much more comfortable at center and played an excellent game. He’s been steadily improving and looks like a steal of a signing.
  •  The penalty kill was perfect again, and the highlight was when they killed off Mcavoy’s five-minute penalty.
  •  Ullmark was excellent once again. In five games, he has four wins, a 1.77 goals against, and a .939 save percentage.
  •  Danton Heinen officially signed a one-year contract worth $775,000 on Monday, thus ending the will-they, won’t-they courtship. He was used as a defenseman in overtime and played relatively well. You can tell he’s happy to be back in Boston.