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Bruins are channeling the Panthers hate the right way, and now it’s a series

Bruins Channel Panthers Hate The Right Way, And Now It’s A Series Originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

For three games, the Bruins played the Panthers on Florida’s terms. They chased whistles, challenged the bench to fights and unwisely watched their best player drop the gloves before being tuned up by a Medford grandchild.

The Panthers laughed at them and filled the Bruins with the kind of anger typically reserved for the kid whose big brother slaps him with his own wrists and innocently asks why he keeps hitting himself. Your anger only fuels their ridicule.

Continue on that path in Game 5, and the B’s would scatter to the winds this summer. So they changed course and stopped trying to beat the Panthers in the game the Floridians have perfected.

And now we have a series.

Boston’s 2-1 win was the first close game of the five, but don’t let the lopsided scores fool you. The two teams are producing great theater marked by deep-seated hatred, and with the series returning to Boston for Friday’s Game 6, the Bruins have finally learned their most important lesson: Trying to get revenge on Florida’s various transgressions will inevitably end badly.

It’s so tempting, though, because the Panthers are one smug team. Matthew Tkachuk, the aforementioned boxer, looks like he would swing the leg for Cobra Kai without even being asked. Sam Bennett is playing a dirty game what Mark Zuckerberg is playing in ruining American discourse – by the time you realize what’s happened, it’s too late. Even head coach Paul Maurice acts like the Bruins are beneath him.

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The Panthers are troublemakers, instigators, and irritants, and they’re so much better at it than you are. But that didn’t stop the Bruins from engaging in fruitless extracurricular activities during Games 3 and 4; If I had to hear about ‘Big ol’ Paddy Maroon’, where he basically begged someone to fight him like a desperate grizzly one more time, I might have smashed a hammer into my TV.

None of that was there in Game 5. The Bruins beat the Panthers early and then held on for dear life, needing a brilliant performance from goaltender Jeremy Swayman, who stopped Sam Reinhart in the closing seconds.

The Bruins stopped meekly taunting the Florida bench, and they stopped fighting for every next matchup, which is just not their game. Instead, they took the body, scattered 49 hits, and otherwise kept quiet about it. After letting the Panthers collectively live in their heads for three games, they performed a skull expansion just in time.

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This doesn’t change for a second how hateful the Panthers remain, or how much the Bruins want nothing more than to smile and tell them to do that (insert expletive here) in the handshake line. The Panthers are great villains because they give you a little bit of everything.

They’re dirty, as evidenced by Bennett’s punch to the back of Bruins captain Brad Marchand’s head. The piece was so sneaky that it took a camera from Canada to unearth it a day later. Bennett’s unconvincing explanation – did he really have the time to punch Marchand during such a blistering play, he’s just asking questions – was the definition of gaslighting. It’s easy to see why the Bruins want his head.

The Panthers are also arrogant. Maurice’s in-game interview during Game 4 was breathtaking in its nonchalance. Yes, Florida was down 2-0, but he liked how his team played and two goals was nothing. His tone suggested that he was finally going to let the cat eat the mouse after playing with it for a while. He couldn’t even pretend the Bruins scared him.

The Panthers are annoying. After Brandon Montour scored Florida’s sixth goal in Game 2, he started a brawl that ended with licks toward Marchand, who is known to have been involved in the act. The Panthers also made several dives, including one that was ultimately penalized Tuesday night.

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They are also as strong as nails. This series has produced hit after hit, and the Panthers can give it the best they can, from rugged defenseman Niko Mikkola to the more talented Bennett and Tkachuk. When Florida has dominated – which has often been the case – it has been thanks to its relentless work on the forecheck. This isn’t some high-flying pretty boy team. The Panthers can mix it up as well as anyone.

Finally and most importantly, they are absurdly talented. When the Panthers settled on the Boston end, they were dazzling. They win pucks on the boards and then play keep-away with video game passes. It’s hard to imagine the Bruins being able to withstand the onslaught of even Florida’s relatively weak Game 5 two more times. To win this thing you’re going to need a lot of luck, and even more Swayman.

That said, it’s not impossible, and if the Bruins can pull it off, they would not only exorcise last year’s demons, but also wipe that grin off the Panthers’ faces in the most rewarding way – by sending them home to send.

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