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Sam Bennett provides spark as Panthers beat Bruins in Game 4, go up 3-1 in series

Jordan McPherson, Miami Herald on

Published in Hockey

BOSTON — Florida Panthers center Sam Bennett already had the ire of Boston Bruins fans entering Game 4 of the teams’ second-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series on Sunday. It was Bennett one game earlier, three minutes into his first appearance of the series after missing five consecutive playoff games due to a hand/wrist injury, who knocked out Bruins captain Brad Marchand with a hit and apparent punch at center ice — one the Bruins said was intentional but Bennett said was not.

As if Bennett needed any more reason to rile up the Bruins, he scored the game-tying goal early in the third period in controversial fashion to set the Panthers up for their eventual 3-2 win on Sunday at TD Garden. Florida is now up 3-1 in the best-of-7 series and and clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference Final as early as Tuesday when it plays Game 5 in Sunrise.

“Benny’s huge for us,” Panthers forward Anton Lundell said. “He’s been one of the leaders on this team for the last year or so. He’s doing everything he can, shift after shift. He’s hard to play against. He’s great to have on your team.”

Panthers opponents certainly don’t like facing him.

And the Bruins have gotten beyond frustrated with him over the past few days.

In the opening minutes of Game 3, Bennett collided on the boards with Marchand in the neutral zone at the benches. As Bennett braced himself for a hit from Marchand, he swung a right hook at the Bruins captain, who ultimately left that game after two periods and did not play on Sunday.

 

Boston coach Jim Montgomery pregame Sunday said he took responsibility that his team “didn’t retaliate to some degree” during the game and said the play was “outside the lines.”

“It’s someone that plays the game on the edge,” Montgomery said, “and he knew what he was doing. I don’t know if you’ve seen the picture from behind. But there’s clearly… he loaded up.”

Bennett’s perspective on the accusations?

“It’s one of those plays where he’s coming to hit me,” Bennett said. “I’m trying to brace myself. There’s no way I would have had time to think about punching him in the face like everyone said, but people can have their opinions. I know it definitely wasn’t intentional. I’m bracing myself as he’s coming to hit me, and it’s unfortunate that he got hit. Obviously, he’s a heck of a player and a big part of that team. So it’s unfortunate, but by no means was that an intentional punch in the face.”

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