Takeaways: Bruins continue showcasing winning variety during tough stretch

Simply put, the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers don’t like one another.

Boston Bruins Game Day Preview: Revenge Game vs. Florida Panthers on Tap - Boston  Bruins News, Analysis and More

A mere 12 months removed from a bitter first-round series, the teams engaged in four taxing tilts during the regular season, including twice in the last 10 days.

Both teams had some stakes up for grabs, with the Panthers entering Saturday’s matinee four points behind the Bruins for the top spot in the Atlantic. But more important than improving their potential placement in the final 82-game standings, the divisional rivals wanted nothing more than to make a statement and prove that they’re ready for the postseason grind.

The pesky Panthers tried to rattle the Bruins physically. Jim Montgomery’s club didn’t hesitate responding to any post-whistle activity or late contact, including Matthew Tkachuk’s second-period hit from behind on Parker Wotherspoon.

The Bruins stood their ground, matching Florida’s intensity for over 60 minutes on Saturday. In the end, they were one goal better.

Upon losing an attacking-zone faceoff, Jesper Boqvist eventually regained possession of the puck following Florida’s last offensive possession of the 3-on-3 overtime. Within seconds, Boqvist delivered a top-shelf marker over Sergei Bobrovsky’s stick to secure Boston’s 3-2 win and a regular season sweep of Florida.

Here’s what we learned as the Bruins moved one step closer to clinching the top spot in the Atlantic.

The Bruins took various paths to victory during challenging slate.

Over the last two weeks, the Bruins faced arguably their toughest stretch of the season against teams currently or within striking distance of playoff positioning.

In the beginning, the Bruins looked far from prepared for the grind ahead, dropping their first two games against the Metro Division-leading Rangers and the desperate Flyers. Their focus came into significant questioning, so much so that Montgomery shifted gears following the setback in Philly and forced his team into a bag skate before they embarked on their Florida swing.

Aside from a dropoff in Tampa, the Bruins rose to the occasion, matching the desperation against stiff competition.

“I think everybody’s really comfortable with who we are, how we need to execute the effort required and the physicality that’s required,” Montgomery said. “I think that’s where our group now has confidence in how to close out games, how to take games and how to push games out of reach.”

In turn, the Bruins bought into their tight-checking identity en route to their best outings from their post-All-Star game slate.

Since that two-game skid against New York and Philly, the Bruins used various means to string together four wins in a row and five in six.

Against Washington, the Bruins killed off a 4-on-3 double-minor in overtime before securing their shootout win. As the trip continued, they pounced on opportunities in Nashville and Carolina before entering shutdown mode in the third period to extend their win streak.

Indeed, they had some hiccups along the way. But the pair of emotional wins over Florida and their recent efforts in crunch time have the Bruins trending upward.

“I think we’re we’re just trying to put together our best game right now, going into the playoffs,” McAvoy said after notching his career-high 11th tally on Boston’s first-period equalizer. “I think we played a lot of really good teams here as of late… a lot of playoff teams. So for us, it’s not too much about the opponent but ourselves and trying to really round into playoff form here to find our best product before we get going in a couple of weeks.”

Boqvist has his first Bruins moment with OT winner.

Boqvist arrived in the summer coming off back-to-back 20-point campaigns during bottom-six duty in New Jersey. But he had to wait patiently for his opportunity in Boston.

Before January, Boqvist only appeared on Boston’s lineup chart twice, spending most of his time fine-tuning his skillset in a top-six role down in Providence. He eventually earned a regular role after the Bruins placed Matthew Poitras on LTIR.

As he alternated between center and wing, Boqvist began providing the Bruins with secondary scoring in a fourth-line role. An injury to Justin Brazeau (week-to-week, according to Montgomery) prompted Boqvist into third-line duty, with Jake DeBrusk and Trent Frederic flanking the Swede on opposite wings.

Against Florida, Boqvist encountered a rare shift during the 3-on-3 overtime.

Boqvist’s lone OT shift didn’t start well after losing a faceoff against Sasha Barkov, who eventually forced the extra session after he buried a rebound past Linus Ullmark to tie things at 2-2 during a 4-on-4 sequence early in the third. But he recovered in time to complete a breakaway for his first career overtime tally.

“I feel like every chance I get, I keep getting a little bit better,” Boqvist said of his first year in Boston. “Even though some games are worse, I pick up some stuff from the guys and the coaching staff. So I’m trying to improve each and every day.”

With four regular-season games remaining, Boqvist and the red-hot Bruins still have a few areas to improve, particularly with the man advantage.

Montgomery isn’t concerned with Boston’s struggling power play.

Boston’s 169 goals at 5v5 sit sixth best in the league, trailing only Dallas, Colorado, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton.

If only the Bruins’ power play performed at a similar pace of late.

For the third straight year, the Bruins encountered a declining power play during the home stretch.

Entering Saturday, Frederic’s third-period equalizer in Florida on March 26 marked Boston’s lone power play marker over their previous 19 attempts. But given a top-unit personnel featuring a trio of dynamic weapons in Pastrnak, McAvoy and Brad Marchand, Montgomery wasn’t fretting too much over Boston’s recent woes with the man advantage.

“I’m not concerned about our power play,” Montgomery said during his pregame media availability. “We got David Pastrnak. We have Charlie McAvoy, we have, you know, a guy who has 400 goals as a Bruin. I’m not too concerned. I know that hasn’t looked great lately, but we’re working on things, and when you’re working on things, sometimes it’s not natural. But we think because we’re working on it now, it’ll be natural come playoff time.”

The Bruins drew five power play opportunities against a Panthers squad that’s committed the second-most penalties this season. But Boston’s power play looked out of sorts again during its first three attempts.

But they started clicking with their chance in the middle frame and finally converted when Marchand found Coyle in the slot for a tip-in over Bobrovsky, giving the Bruins their first lead of the afternoon.

“It was nice,” Montgomery said postgame of the power play eventually breaking through. “Our bench could sense the frustration in the first with the first three power plays and not coming through. And we talked about how that next one is the one that matters.”

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