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Murphy: Montgomery Took The Bullets For His Players

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Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery took the bullets for his players following another listless start from his team in a 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers in Game 3 on Friday night at TD Garden.

Before we get into how Jim Montgomery accepted blame for a baffling start to Game 3 that saw his team get out-shot 24-8 in the first two periods of Game 3, let’s rewind to when this puck scribe called out Montgomery for throwing everyone but himself under the bus. Just hours before the Bruins’ 3-1 series lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round evaporated in Game 6 on May 2, I called on Montgomery to start accepting more blame. After doing so in their seven-game series loss to the Florida Panthers in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Bruins were about to blow a 3-1 series lead for two straight seasons:

For two straight postseasons, when the heat ramps up and his team unravels, Jim Montgomery hasn’t ducked responsibility, but he also hasn’t specifically owned his mistakes that led to a loss. Who can forget when the Boston Bruins bench boss deferred to Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa when asked why he started goalie Jeremy Swayman over Linus Ullmark in Game 7 against the Florida Panthers after Linus Ullmark started the first six games of the series?

“You’d have to ask Goalie Bob [Essensa] a little more in detail about that,” Montgomery said at the time, knowing full well that the media is not allowed to speak to the goalie coach.

Just as they did in this current series against the Maple Leafs, the Bruins led the Panthers 3-1 in that first-round series a year ago. They also lost Game 5 of that series in overtime, just as they did to the Maple Leafs this past Tuesday.

Heading into Game  5 on Tuesday at TD Garden, Montgomery decided to pull rookie forward and faceoff specialist John Beecher from the lineup in favor of Justin Brazeau, who had not played since April 2. He also inserted struggling defenseman Matt Grzelcyk into the lineup and took out Kevin Shattenkirk. Grzelcyk finished with just one shot and had two turnovers, one of which led to the Jake McCabe goal that put the Maple Leafs up 1-0 5:33 into regulation. It got worse for Grzelcyk, though, as he was absolutely walked by Toronto captain John Tavares in overtime, leading to the overtime winner by Matthew Knies. After the game, Montgomery was asked if he regretted his lineup changes.

“No, I don’t,” Montgomery said when asked if he thought his personnel changes contributed to the disjointed start. “We made three changes before Game 3. I don’t think changing personnel… we’ll have to evaluate it and see how everybody did when we review the film and see if we’re gonna make different changes.”

Fast-forward to Montgomery’s post-game presser after Game 3 against the Panthers on Friday night, and there was Montgomery taking the blame for very underwhelming performance from his players in Game 3. Montgomery was asked about the trend of slow starts in the Stanley Cup playoffs and how much of it is on him and/or the players.

“Me personally?” Montgomery replied with a wink, a laugh, and then a look of bewilderment and frustration.

“Not time for jokes, probably right? I’m. …We started well in the first two games. I think you’re referring to the Toronto series. Yeah, we’ve had a couple of games where we’ve started slow, and we haven’t generated much offense. We gotta get better. I have to give the players a better plan. Florida was significantly better than us, and I gotta come up with a better game plan.”

The Boston Bruins uncharacteristically gave up four power play goals in Game 3, and the Bostom Bruins bench boss was asked what he thought went wrong with the area of the game his team prides themselves in.

“I don’t think we’re on top of our game,” Montgomery said. “Out execution, to be honest, the last two games. …or the last two periods of the last game and the first two periods tonight have just not been good enough, and that’s why I say that’s my fault, and I gotta be better.”

This was a complete 180 by Montgomery from the first round against the Maple Leafs and last spring against the Panthers, and the 2023 Jack Adams Award deserves credit. Montgomery has now self-admittedly made mistakes and the fact he owned that on Friday night won’t go unnoticed by his players.

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