Bruins’ ‘big character’ win vs. Panthers came at a steep price originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The result gave them a 8-0-1 record, which represents the longest point streak to start a season in team history.
And in some aspects, it was their most impressive win of the season.
The game started out a lot like many of the Bruins-Panthers matchups from last year’s disastrous first-round playoff series. Bad turnovers and the Panthers’ aggressive forecheck caused a lot of problems for the B’s as Florida took a 2-0 advantage into the first intermission. But the B’s fought back, scoring in the second period on a Brad Marchand goal and tying the game with a Charlie McAvoy tally in the third period.
Boston also lost two defensemen in the third period. Matt Grzelcyk exited with an upper body injury and McAvoy was ejected a short while after for an illegal hit to the head of Panthers defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
McAvoy’s match penalty resulted in a five-minute power play for the Panthers, which the Bruins’ No. 1 ranked penalty kill successfully defeated, much to the delight of the Garden crowd. Pavel Zacha scored on a 2-on-1 rush in OT to snap the Bruins’ three-game home losing streak versus the Panthers that began in Round 1 last season.
“It was a big character win,” Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery told reporters postgame. “We lose Grizzy halfway through the first. We’re down to five D. You have a five-minute major you have to kill off and now you’re down to four D. Just tremendous character by our four defensemen who gutted it out, and also just our team coming back from 2-0 against a real good team and being able to find a way to win.”
The victory came at a very steep price for Boston.
Montgomery revealed Grzelcyk will be out for a couple of weeks. McAvoy could miss some time, too. His high hit on Ekman-Larsson was an ugly one, and the puck wasn’t anywhere near the collision.
It’s possible the NHL’s Department of Player Safety holds a hearing with the B’s star, which could result in a suspension. McAvoy has been suspended only once in his career. It was for a hit to the head during the second round of the 2019 playoffs.
There’s never a good time to lose two important defensemen, especially when one of them (McAvoy) is top five at his position. But this is an especially tough stretch to not have these players because the Bruins’ schedule is pretty difficult over the next two weeks.
The Bruins host the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs and their superstar-laden forward group featuring Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares on Thursday night. Boston plays a red-hot Detroit Red Wings team Saturday that ranks No. 1 in goals scored at 5-on-5 (25). And then the B’s play the Dallas Stars — one of the Western Conference’s best teams — on the road before returning to the Garden for a matchup against a pesky New York Islanders squad that has elite goaltending.
The Grzelcyk-McAvoy duo is essentially the Bruins’ top defense pairing. This tandem has played very well to begin the season, too. The Bruins have a plus-14 lead in shot attempts, a plus-12 advantage in scoring chances and a 3-1 goal differential when this pairing has been on the ice at 5-on-5 this season, per Natural Stat Trick.
McAvoy, in particular, has enjoyed a strong start to the campaign. He’s on pace to set a new career high for scoring in a single season after posting eight points (two goals, six assists) through the first nine games. He also leads the B’s at 23:54 of ice time per game.
The Bruins likely will need to call up a defenseman or two for a bit. Ian Mitchell and top prospect Mason Lohrei figure to be the top candidates for a promotion from Providence.
It wouldn’t be shocking if the Bruins won games without McAvoy and Grzelcyk. The main reason why is goaltending. Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman have been outstanding in net for Boston with a league-leading .947 save percentage.
“Our goaltending is why we’re 8-0-1,” Montgomery said.
The B’s scoring depth has been better than expected as well, evidenced by the fact that they’ve scored at least three goals in all nine of their games so far.
But losing two very good defensemen is a real challenge, and other players will need to step up in larger roles for the team to continue its winning ways into November.