‘Nasty, nasty man’: Sam Bennett takes over Bruins-Panthers, creating controversy left and right

BOSTON — Of all the Florida Panthers, it had to be Sam Bennett, right?

As if he hadn’t already pissed off the Boston Bruins and their passionate fans enough in his only previous appearance in this quickly boiling over series, as if he wasn’t already more annoying than pieces of shell that are somehow slipped into their juicy lobster roll. , Bennett — one of the NHL’s biggest agitators, shift disruptors and notorious playoff warriors — has just had being the guy who scored the controversial tying goal in the Panthers’ last playoff comeback at TD Garden.

A game after drawing the ire of Bruins coach Jim Montgomery, fans and many online video sleuths with what the state of Massachusetts insists was an intentional punch and sneaky jaw-dropper to captain Brad Marchand, Bennett turned the other cheek every time the Bruins players wanted a piece of him, went on to play a major role in Florida’s 3-2 triumph, giving him helped win a second straight Eastern Conference final.

During a power play in the third period, Bennett scored after pushing Charlie Coyle against goaltender Jeremy Swayman. When Coyle made contact, the puck naturally made its way to Bennett in front of the goalmouth for the equalizer into an open net. The Bruins disputed goaltender interference, but the NHL’s situation room in Toronto, on the headset with both referees, ruled that the video “supported the on-ice referees’ call that the push by Sam Bennett of Florida on Charlie Coyle and the contact that followed. with Jeremy Swayman did not prevent Swayman from playing his position in the crease before Bennett’s goal.

The Bruins, to say the least, disagreed. They were mostly diplomatic after the game, but a furious and crazed Montgomery gave it to both referees on the ensuing power play for the unsuccessful challenge and subsequent televised timeout.

Was Swayman ticked off that of all the players, it had to be Bennett who scored?

“I don’t know who scores goals. I don’t look at the players,” Swayman said. “It doesn’t matter. He’s in. And it’s frustrating enough. My job is to keep pucks away, and that’s all I care about.

Bennett wasn’t surprised the goal counted.

“I think they received the right decision,” he said.

Bennett felt that Swayman wouldn’t have had time to slip whether Coyle had inhibited him or not, “so I think that’s why it stuck.”

Of course, if Coyle hadn’t been pushed onto Swayman, he would have been the one defending Bennett at the edge of the net. But a missed interference or a penalty for crosschecking by the referees is not reviewable.

Panthers coach Paul Maurice naturally also agreed with the call, saying “the contact between the two is not blatant at all.” And the play ends more than anything else. And it’s in the situation book and in the rule book.

Although the Panthers didn’t score on the power play, Aleksander Barkov, in the midst of a huge playoff run, made it 3-2 just 3:50 after Bennett equalized. With Sam Reinhart out of the game with a gruesome cut after taking a puck to the face, Kyle Okposo forced a turnover and Barkov followed it up by skating through David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk and Mason Lohrei for his third winning game of the playoffs. Barkov owns a franchise record 50 points in 56 playoff games, which places Saku Koivu as the fourth-fastest Finnish player to reach 50 points in the playoffs.

“It’s so fun to watch Barky play hockey,” Bennett said. “I think for anyone else it’s a career milestone, and for him it’s just another day at the office.”

Whenever Bennett speaks, like most agitators off the ice, he is as affable as possible.

Almost friendly.

But for the Bruins, he’s far from there, especially after injuring Marchand the previous game.

Montgomery on Sunday morning called the punch “out of line.”

“I think he’s someone who plays on the edge,” the Bruins coach said. “And he knew what he was doing. I don’t know if you saw the photo of the back. …He charged.

In fact, TNT, which televised Friday’s Game 3, never showed the opposite angle during the telecast because, let’s be honest, if Bennett intended to hit Marchand like Montgomery claimed, he did. certainly beautifully disguised because in real time and with the naked eye. , it simply seemed that Marchand had taken the brunt of an unfortunate collision.

But with the reverse angle revealed by TNT on Sunday, it really seemed damning that Bennett knew what he was doing when he caught Marchand with his glove and a piece of his stick. Add in the fact that he beat Matthew Knies of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs last year with an awfully similar shot to the face with his right hand, and that’s the “story” Montgomery was talking about.

Marchand left the game briefly Friday, then returned to play the remainder of the first period and the entire second. His suspected concussion (the Bruins have not confirmed the injury) could have gotten worse in the second period when he checked Kevin Stenlund and his head hit Stenlund’s helmet.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety did not fine or suspend Bennett. It’s unclear whether the league received this reverse angle from TNT.

“He’s sneaky and mean,” TNT panelist and former NHL player Colby Armstrong said on the pregame show. “He is a bad man, very bad, and he means business. And especially in the playoffs, he is a weapon for this Florida Panthers team.

Bennett spoke after Friday’s game as it was his first action since injuring his hand or wrist in the second game of the first round. He had seven hits and had an assist on Vladimir Tarasenko’s power play goal. He was only asked about Marchand in the context of how it would change the complexion of the series if Marchand didn’t return.

At that time, no charges had been filed. Now there has been, so after Sunday’s game he was asked Athleticism to determine whether he deliberately punched Marchand.

Absolutely not, he said.

“It’s just one of those plays where he comes and hits me,” Bennett said. “I’m trying to prepare myself. I never would have had time to think about punching him in the face like everyone said. But people can have their opinions. I know it was definitely not intentional. I brace myself as he comes to hit me. And it’s a shame he got hurt.

“Obviously, he’s a heck of a player and an important part of this team. So it’s a shame, but it was in no way an intentional punch to the face.

You have to give it to Bennett.

He played 30 minutes in this series, but his presence took over.

Montgomery even took personal responsibility for the Bruins failing to retaliate against him on Friday. And on Sunday, even though the Bruins weren’t concerned with trying to get revenge on him and their only motivation was trying to even the series, they certainly tried to get licked.

Trent Frederic gave him a few shots. Pat Maroon barked at him and really wanted to fight him.

He ignored everything and continued playing on it.

“Benny is huge for us,” said young center Anton Lundell, whose second-period goal cut a 2-0 deficit in half. “He’s been one of the leaders of this team for the last (few) years and he does everything he can, shift after shift. It’s difficult to play against him. It’s great to have him on your team instead of the other team, so it’s huge to have him back.

Most agitators thrive on the villain role.

No athlete could stand 19,000 fans cursing and booing your every move and hating your very existence, especially in today’s social media climate, if they didn’t accept it.

Bennett is no different.

“I love it,” he says. “I think I get a little more juice, a little more enthusiasm for these games, but no, I enjoy every second of these games.”

And Bennett wasn’t immune to all the outside vitriol ahead of Sunday’s game.

He heard Montgomery’s accusations. He heard talk of revenge from the Bruins coach and players. He saw the posts on X and Instagram.

Still, he says he wasn’t nervous at all on Sunday, completely unfazed by all the chatter and veiled threats.

“I mean, you hear everything,” Bennett said. “I got a good taste of it last year in Toronto. Just a little, I guess, I’m used to it. This is playoff hockey. People will say what they want. Obviously there are passionate fans here. They will cheer for their team. They will do everything they can to energize their team. We have our game plan. We know what we have to do and we are not affected by any of these external noises.

Maurice believes this is all media-driven, forgetting that no one asked for a word about the alleged dirty play after Friday’s game because no one knew about it until slow-motion videos appeared in line the next day and that Montgomery spent two consecutive media sessions leveling accusations against Bennett due to “clarifying the evidence.”

“There was a lot of energy and a lot of media coverage,” Maurice said. “I think you’ve lost your mind a little, which is good. You have this right. We were a very disciplined and composed team. We have. Fortunately, in a good way, this went unnoticed. We agree with that.

As they should be.

These are the Panthers who have won three straight games since Boston won the first game. These are the Panthers who have won five straight playoff games in Boston dating back to last spring. It’s the Panthers who dominate this series, limiting the Bruins to 18 shots or fewer in the last three games and two shots total in the third period on Sunday.

And it’s the Panthers who are 3-0 all-time while leading a best-of-seven series 3-1, so their goal is to not see Boston again this season and close out this series Tuesday night in Sunrise.

If Bennett continues his turmoil in a few days and plays a solid game again, it’s a safe bet that he will once again play a role in the Bruins’ defeat.

“Our whole team believed we were going to win this game,” Bennett said. “It was so positive in that locker room, and we knew we would get there. It was just a matter of time.”

But, he said of Tuesday, “it’s important to just regroup, recover now, (then) regroup.” It’s going to be a huge, huge match at home. I’m sure the fans will be into it. So regroup, refocus and prepare for the next game.

(Photo: Bob DeChiara / USA Today)

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