The Panthers left TD Garden with a few questions, not the least of which was how the Bruins have had such a stranglehold on them the past few years.
Florida lost 3-1 on Saturday afternoon, a ninth consecutive victory by Boston in a series that has seen the Bruins win 18 of the past 22.
But a more pressing question was how healthy the Panthers will be by the end of this four-game road trip they opened Saturday. Derek MacKenzie was lost to what appeared to be a leg injury early in the second period after colliding with Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.
MacKenzie did not return with what the team said was a lower-body injury.
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The Panthers are already without defenseman Steven Kampfer and center Nick Bjugstad. Losing one of their most consistent players in MacKenzie would be a problem.
“Derek’s a big loss,” said Panthers coach Gerard Gallant. “He’s an energy guy for us, he’s worked hard, and he’s played pretty well lately, especially the last few games. That was a big loss, we had to adjust a little bit.”
The Panthers struggled to get many clean looks while Boston shrunk the ice and bogged the game down.
Former Bruins Reilly Smith and Shawn Thornton brought some needed energy in what Gallant called a “pretty flat game.” Smith scored on a slapshot from the right point with 6:04 remaining in the third, pulling Florida within 2-1.
Smith was playing his first game back in Boston after two years with the Bruins.
It was a minor miracle that the Panthers only trailed by 1 after the first period. Boston laid claim to the best scoring chances and biggest hits – save for Thornton’s licking on former Panther Jimmy Hayes, a hit that sent a Hayes out of the game for awhile.
The Bruins got on the board when Torey Krug fired a shot from just shy of the blue line. Ryan Spooner got a stick on it – not a high one, as video review would confirm – and Boston had a 1-0 lead.
The only reason the damage wasn’t worse was because Roberto Luongo rescued his team from several turnovers in their own end. Luongo finished with 22 saves.
“We created a lot of their offensive chances from turning pucks over,” said Gallant.
Spooner struck again from the right circle with 12 minutes left in the second period, this time on Boston’s league-leading power play. Aaron Ekbland got sent off for tripping Zac Rinaldo, then both received roughing penalties.
Florida’s play improved as the game went on, putting more shots on Tuukka Rask (26 saves), but their results mostly stayed the same. A power play late in the second after Patrice Bergeron was sent off for tripping yielded more shots for the shorthanded Bruins (two) than the Panthers (one).
Hometown boy Connor Brickley also left the game in the third period after a hard hit from Rinaldo, but he later returned. Rinaldo’s penance included a knuckle sandwich from Thornton. Both took a trip to the penalty box.