NHL Playoffs: Panthers force Game 7 with win over Bruins in 12-goal thriller

Florida prevailed in a back-and-forth affair full of highlights and controversy.

The Panthers are giving the President's Trophy winning Bruins a run for their money in Round 1. (Getty Images)
The Panthers are giving the President's Trophy winning Bruins a run for their money in Round 1. (Getty Images)

When Matthew Tkachuk made a soft guarantee that the Florida Panthers would be back in Boston to face the Bruins in a Game 7, Tkachuk put the pressure on himself and his teammates. After the Panthers won a 7-5 thriller in Game 6, the pressure is now firmly on the Bruins in Game 7 — to survive this series, and avoid squandering their record-breaking regular season.

Tkachuk walked the walk in Game 6 after talking the talk. He registered two goals and an assist, including scoring a big marker to even the game at 5-5 in the third period.

That goal was part of a stunning seven-goal spree in the third period. Even before that frenetic final frame, the two teams were putting on a show. Maybe David Pastrnak wanted to show that Tkachuk isn’t the only star who could score ridiculous between-the-legs goals, as he showed his skill for one of his two Game 6 goals.

Notably, Aleksander Barkov made it 3-2 in the second period mere moments after a Bruins goal was disallowed for a perceived hand pass.

The larger theme of the first two periods was trading blows. The Panthers built (and eventually lost) leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before ending the second period up 3-2. As exciting as the back-and-forth opening 40 minutes were, the third period felt more like two brawlers unloading their heaviest haymakers, over and over again, with Florida being the last fighter standing.

Just 1:32 into the third, Tyler Bertuzzi tied it 3-3. Less than four minutes into the final frame, David Pastrnak gave the Bruins their first lead of Game 6 with a 4-3 tally.

Less than four minutes after that Pastrnak goal, Zac Dalpe scored his first goal of the playoffs to make it 4-4. Three minutes later, Jake DeBrusk scored a shorthanded goal to give Boston a 5-4 lead, but then Tkachuk answered for Florida to tie it back up at 5-5.

About three-and-a-half minutes after that tying goal, Eetu Luostarinen scored the game-winner.

Despite the Bruins pushing to tie Game 6 up again with their goalie on the bench, a Sam Reinhart empty-netter locked down the Panthers' 7-5 win.

That’s one wild third period to end what was already a busy elimination game, and a fitting way to force the first Game 7 of these 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Linus Ullmark has a strong chance to win a Vezina Trophy, and rightly so after having a breakout season. As just about any goalie can attest, regular season splendor can turn into big-game jitters in a hurry if things start to snowball in the playoffs.

Blame it on fatigue, a possible injury, the Panthers or any number of factors, but Ullmark’s looked shaky — and a little slow at times to get to his skates after making saves — for a portion of this series. It inspires the uncomfortable question: should the Bruins stick with Ullmark or turn to Jeremy Swayman in Game 7?

One big disadvantage is that Swayman would be going in cold in a Game 7.

Some wonder if the shock of seeing your starter get benched might serve as a wakeup call for the Bruins.

Overall, it’s a tough call. Considering how the Panthers shrunk the Bruins’ 3-1 series lead to a 3-3 tie and forced a do-or-die Game 7, Boston has to find answers, and quickly.