Panthers maul Bruins, 6-2


Panthers maul Bruins, 6-2

SUNRISE, Fla. Once again the Bruins handed the first two goals over to their opponents, and once they ended stuck with the losing end.

Stop me if youve heard this one already.

The Bruins fell behind 4-1 entering the third period and attempted to stage a furious late comeback, but ended up falling by a 6-2 score to the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center.

It was the season-worst fourth loss in a row for the Bruins and tagged them with defeats at all three stops along their just-concluded three-game road trip through Pittsburgh, Tampa and Florida. The loss means the Ottawa Senators will have a golden chance to pass them in the Northeast Division with a tilt scheduled against Montreal on Friday night.

This nights slide started at the end of a respectable first period as a bad cross-checking call on Shawn Thornton set up a Mikeal Samuelsson power play goal roofed over Tim Thomas. The Bruins and Panthers traded goals in the first five minutes of the second as a Marcel Goc tipped puck and a Joe Corvo blast made it a 2-1 contest.

But the Panthers kept their foot on the gas pedal and the Bruins simply faded away with all-too-familiar defensive breakdowns and careless passing in their own zone. A poor Zdeno Chara breakout pass to the middle of the ice ended with John Madden pushing a shot past Thomas to make it 4-1.

The Bruins attempted a third period comeback with a Brian Rolston power play strike, but a bad bounce off Adam McQuaids skated handed a goal over to Tomas Kopecky and it was all over. Then another late Florida goal made it six goals against tonight and 36 goals scored against the Bruins in nine March games.

Hightower on Collins: 'He makes it a lot easier for me'


Hightower on Collins: 'He makes it a lot easier for me'

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower is coming off of one of the best games of his career, and he did it while running the Patriots defensive huddle without the help of his on-the-field partner at the linebacker level.

"It’s a lot more fluent having Jamie [Collins] out there," Hightower said on Wednesday. "A lot of the times we coordinate things a lot together. I usually take care of the front, he takes care of the secondary. We have our own way of doing things. Sometimes Jamie is just like, ‘No, you go ahead and you just make the calls and I’ll play off of you.’

"It helps having him out there. I mean, he does everything so he makes it a lot easier for me. Anytime I can have him out there with me, I’m 100 percent having him out there."

Hightower has plenty of experience playing without Collins, however, and Collins is accustomed to having to go without Hightower. Both had issues staying on the field in 2015, and although it's early, that trend has continued this season.

Hightower missed Weeks 2 and 3 due to a knee injury, and Collins missed Week 6 with a hip issue, meaning the duo has been available to coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia only three times this year. 

Last season the pair was active for 10 of 18 games, including both playoff games, and during a Week 5 win over the Cowboys, Hightower played just nine snaps. Collins dealt with an illness that kept him out for four games last season, and Hightower, as has been the case for much of his career, was limited by (and often played through) myriad ailments.

Both are vital to the long-term success of the Patriots defense in 2016, but it's been hit-or-miss as to when they'll be out there to play off of one another as Hightower described.

"Our linebackers, Jamie, Dont'a, they're two of the best in the league," said safety Duron Harmon following Hightower's dominating performance against the Bengals in Week 6. "Any time we can have those guys out there, they just continue to create havoc.

"They make plays, they make it easier for us, especially me. The quarterback can't look off as long when Dont'a's all in his face -- him and Jamie. Having him on the field is a plus. And when you get both of them on the field it's a double-plus."

And therein lies the issue: Having both Hightower and Collins out there together has felt like a luxury rather than the norm. 

At some point, the Patriots will have to make decisions as to what they'll do at the linebacker level for the foreseeable future. Both Hightower and Collins are slated to hit free-agency, and their durability will certainly factor into the equation when the Patriots make them offers to stick in New England.

Until then, though, both will work to be available as often as possible -- both for their team's sake and their own as they eye new deals -- where they can stress opposing offenses at a degree to which most linebacker combinations around the league can only aspire. 

"With us out there we’re able to do a lot of different things, [we have] a lot of versatility," Hightower said. "So hopefully we can both stay out there."

Hightower was removed from the Patriots injury report last week, meaning he's able to take on a full workload in practice. Collins, meanwhile, continues to be limited in practice, and his availability for Sunday's game with the Steelers is not yet known. In place of Collins, sixth-round rookie Elandon Roberts earned the bulk of the playing time against the Bengals last week. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo saw a season-high eight defensive snaps in the win.