BOSTON – The Florida Panthers watched Bruins forward Brad Marchand skate in alone on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, with the seconds ticking away in the third period of a 3-3 game.
If Marchand scores, Florida's season is over.
“I knew it wasn’t going in,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said, before admitting that he was lying. "You can't know that it wasn't going in, so I'm full of (it) when I just said that to you.
“But I don’t feel like we’ve had a whole lot of advantage in this series, in the karma of the game,” Maurice said after Bobrovsky's save with 1 second left sent the game into overtime, where Matthew Tkachuk won it. “I just felt that we had stored enough karma that that shot wouldn’t go in.”
Tkachuk scored six minutes into overtime, and Bobrovsky stopped 44 shots to help the Panthers beat the Bruins 4-3 on Wednesday night and force their first-round playoff series back to Florida for a sixth game.
One game after Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark tried to fight Tkachuk, the Panthers forward took advantage of Ullmark’s sloppy puck play behind the net to cut Boston's lead in the best-of-seven series to 3-2.
“A little bit of pinball and it somehow got right on my stick. I made sure to put it home,” Tkachuk said. “Bob made a hell of a save, otherwise our season's over. ... Things happen fast in playoffs.”
Anthony Duclair, Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart also scored — each one giving the Panthers a lead. Tkachuk also drew a penalty and then assisted on the power-play goal that gave Florida a 3-2 lead five minutes into the third period.
After Boston tied it — and Bobrovsky preserved the lead — Marchand's pass to Pavel Zacha at the point in the Florida zone skidded all the way down the ice and behind the Boston net. Ullmark carelessly played it right to Carter Verhaeghe in the corner; he shot it off Ullmark's leg, and it bounced to Tkachuk in the slot.
He flipped it over to his backhand and beat the badly out of position goalie.
“That guy is a — and then you put a long string of profanity — gamer,” Maurice said. “He’s just a gamer. Use your own words.”
Game 6 is Friday night in Sunrise, Florida, where Boston won twice already this series to push the Panthers to the brink of elimination. The Presidents' Trophy winners had not lost back-to-back home games all season.
“We’re supposed to get swept in the series, right? Everyone’s saying? So I don’t think anybody really gave us a chance after losing two games in a row and at home and coming here,” Tkachuk said. “It just seemed like the series was over before that game even started. ... It comes down to: We don't want our season to end.”
Patrice Bergeron scored in his return from an injury, and Ullmark stopped 21 shots for the Bruins. Marchand and Taylor Hall had the other goals for Boston, which rallied from 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 deficits to force overtime.
The Bruins' loss came one night after the Celtics lost a Game 5 in the same building, blowing a chance to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs.
“It's always hard to close it out,” Ullmark said. "A team's going to play for their lives and their season. We've got to be better for the next one. Including me. I'm guilty of that as well."
It was 2-1 Florida when Bergeron tied it five seconds into a Boston power play, tipping Marchand’s shot into the net. Seconds later, Tkachuk drew a hooking penalty on Jakub Lauko, and Reinhart quickly put the Panthers back in front.
With about 10 minutes left in regulation, though, Hall fought for a puck in the slot, turned and wristed it into the net to tie the game 3-3. The Panthers earned a faceoff in the Boston zone with 8 seconds left. Marchand poked the puck free and chased it down, breaking free down the ice.
Bobrovsky, who did not play in the series until Alex Lyon fell behind 3-0 in Game 3, turned Marchand aside with 1 second left on the clock.
“I felt that the pressure needed to be on Sergei to play this game,” Maurice said. “The leaders carry the weight of your team. He needed to carry that weight, and he was brilliant.”