'Nasty, dirty man': Sam Bennett takes on Bruins-Panthers causing controversy left and right

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

As if he hadn't already incensed the Boston Bruins and their passionate fans enough in his previous appearance in this fast-boiling series, as if he wasn't already more irritated by the pieces of shell that somehow found their way into their juicy lobster. Had slipped into the role, Bennett – one of the NHL's biggest agitators, shift disturbers and notorious playoff warriors – simply Was Being the man to score the controversial tying goal in the Panthers' latest playoff comeback at the TD Garden.

After incurring the wrath of Bruins coach Jim Montgomery, fans and several online video spies in a game against Massachusetts State after what they said was an intentional punch to the jaw of captain Brad Marchand, Bennett turned the other cheek whenever the Bruins' Players Wanted a Piece He then played a major role in Florida's 3–2 victory, putting it one win away from a second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals.

On the third period power play, Bennett scored after Charlie Coyle pushed a pass into goalie Jeremy Swayman. As Coyle approached, the puck naturally went into an open net straight to Bennett in front of the goalmouth for the equalizer. The Bruins challenged for goaltender interference, but the NHL Situation Room in Toronto with two referees on headsets ruled that the video “supports the referee's call on the ice” regarding the push on Charlie Coyle by Florida's Sam Bennett and his It was a later contact.” “Jeremy Swayman did not prevent Swayman from playing in his position in the crease before Bennett’s goal.”

The Bruins, to say the least, disagreed. They were mostly diplomatic after the game, but an angry Montgomery gave it to both refs after a failed challenge and subsequent TV timeout during the ensuing power play.

Did Swayman take into account that of all the players, Bennett was the one to score?

“I don't know who scores the goals. I don't look at the players,” Swayman said. “It doesn't matter. It went in. And this is quite disappointing. My job is to put the puck out and that's all I care about.”

Bennett was not surprised when the goals were counted.

“I think they got the right call,” he said.

Bennett felt that whether Coyle had stopped him or not, Swayman would not have had time to move forward, “so I think that's why it stood.”

Of course, if Coyle had not been pushed onto Swayman, he would have been the one defending Bennett at the side of the net. But missed interference or cross-checking penalties cannot be reviewed by the referee.

Panthers coach Paul Morris also naturally agreed with this call and said, “The contact between the two is not serious at all. And more than anything else, the drama just ends. And it's in the position book and it's in the rule book.

Although the Panthers did not score on the power play, Alexander Barkov made it 3–2 at the 3:50 mark after Bennett equalized in the midst of a tremendous postseason. With Sam Reinhart exiting the game with a gruesome cut after taking a puck to the face, Kyle Okposo forced a turnover and Barkov passed passes over David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk and Mason Lohrey for his third game-winner of the playoffs. Skated through. Barkov holds the franchise record for 50 points in 56 playoff games, making Saku Koivu the fourth-fastest Finnish-born player to reach 50 playoff points.

“It’s a lot of fun to watch Barkey play hockey,” Bennett said. “I think for someone else it's the main career goal, and for him, it's just another day at the office.”

Whenever Bennett speaks, like most agitators off the ice, he is as friendly as can be.

Almost likeable.

But for the Bruins, that's far from it, especially after Marchand was injured before the game.

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

“I think this is somebody who plays the game on the edge,” the Bruins coach said. “And he knew what he was doing. I don't know if you have seen the picture from the back or not. …He was filled.”

In fact, TNT, which aired Friday's Game 3, never showed the reverse angle during the broadcast, because honestly, if Bennett had intended to punch Marchand, as Montgomery argued, then He certainly hid it brilliantly because in real time and with the naked eye, it looked like Marchand bore the brunt of an unfortunate collision.

But from the reverse angle revealed by TNT on Sunday, it certainly appeared damning that Bennett knew what he was doing when he caught Marchand with both his glove and the stick of his glove. Add in the fact that he defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs' Matthew Nease with a vicious shot to the face with his right hand in the playoffs last year, and Montgomery was talking about “history.”

Marchand left the game briefly Friday, then returned to play the remainder of the first period and part of the second period. His presumed injury (the Bruins have not confirmed his injury) may have been aggravated 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 is uncertain whether the league received that reverse angle from TNT or not.

“He's sneaky and he's bad,” TNT panelist and former NHLer Colby Armstrong said on the pregame show. “He's a nasty, disgusting man, and he's all about business. And especially come playoff time, he is a weapon for this Florida Panther team.

Bennett spoke after Friday's game as it was his first action since injuring his hand or wrist in Game 2 of the first round. He had seven hits and assisted on Vladimir Tarasenko's power-play goal. He was only asked about Marchand in the context of how the format of the series would change if Marchand did not return.

No charges were filed at that time. Now, after Sunday's game, he was asked athletic To find out if he intentionally hit Marchand with a sucker punch.

He said, absolutely not.

“It's one of those plays where he's coming to kill me,” Bennett said. “I am trying to control myself. As everyone said, I didn't have time to think about punching him in the face. But people may have their own opinion. I know it definitely wasn't intentional. I am controlling myself because he is coming to kill me. And it's unfortunate that he got hurt.

“Obviously, he's a great player and a big part of that team. So it's unfortunate, but there was no way the punch in the face was intentional.”

You've got to hand it to Bennett.

He has played 30 minutes in this series, yet his presence has become dominant.

Montgomery also took personal responsibility for the Bruins not retaliating against him on Friday. And on Sunday, although the Bruins weren't busy trying to get retribution against him and their only motivation was trying to even the series, they certainly tried to keep their flag flying.

Trent Frederick gave him some shots. Pat Maroon barked at him and tried to fight him badly.

He ignored all this and continued playing through it.

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

Most of the agitators are successful in the role of villain.

No athlete could handle 19,000 fans who boo and boo your every move and hate your existence, especially in today's social media environment, if they didn't accept it.

Bennett is no different.

“I like it,” he said. “I think I get a little extra excitement, a little extra excitement for these games, but no, I enjoy every second of these games.”

And Bennett wasn't immune to all the outside adverse influences coming into Sunday's game.

He heard Montgomery's accusations. He heard from coaches and Bruins players talking about payback. He saw posts on X and Instagram.

Yet he says he wasn't at all nervous on Sunday, completely unaffected by all the talking and veiled threats.

“I mean, you hear it all,” Bennett said. “I got a good taste of it in Toronto last year. Just kind of got used to it, I guess. This is playoff hockey. People are going to say what they want. Obviously, there are passionate fans here. They will encourage their team. They're going to do whatever they can to move their team forward. We have our game plan. We know what we have to do and we are not influenced by any outside noise.

Morris thinks it's all media driven, forgetting that no one asked a word about the alleged foul play after Friday's game because no one knew about it until the slo-mo video appeared online the next day. Montgomery made allegations against Bennett in two consecutive media sessions. “To clear the evidence.”

“There's a lot of energy, a lot of coverage,” Morris said. “I think you've lost your mind a bit over this, which is okay. You have this right. We have been a very disciplined, very composed team. we have. Luckily, in a good way, it went unnoticed. We completely agree with this.”

As they should be.

It's the Panthers who have won three straight games since winning Game 1 in Boston. It's the Panthers who have won five consecutive playoff games in Boston last spring. It has been the Panthers who have dominated this series, holding the Bruins to 18 or fewer shots in the last three games and a total of two in the third period on Sunday.

And it's the Panthers who lead the best-of-seven series 3-0 all-time, so they aim to never see Boston again this season and close out this series on Tuesday night in Sunrise.

If Bennett continues his movement in a few days and once again plays a strong game, it's a good bet that he will again play a role in the Bruins' destruction.

“Our whole team believed we were going to win this game,” Bennett said. “It was very positive in this locker room, and we knew we were getting it. It was just a matter of time.”

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

(Photo: Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY)

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