BOSTON – Sam Bennett didn’t want to ease his way into the game.

"I think it's important to not dip your toe in,” the gritty center said.

From the moment the puck dropped, he knew exactly what to do.


Making a big splash in his first game back from an upper-body injury suffered on April 23, Bennett helped the Florida Panthers set the tone early in their dominant 6-2 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at TD Garden on Friday.

Not long after laying out Brad Marchand with a big hit in the neutral zone, Bennett took aim at another one of Boston’s top stars when he blew up David Pastrnak with a booming body check at the top of the right circle in Florida’s zone that sent both players flying to the ice.

Over 12:43 of ice time in his return, he finished with one assist and seven hits.

“I wanted to go out there and play full speed,” Bennett said. “That's kind of my game.”

It’s also a game his teammates appreciate.

"I would say that we've got guys that are physical, but I don't think anyone is as physical as Benny,” said forward Matthew Tkachuk, who flanks Bennett on the team’s second line. “He's not the biggest guy, but he plays so big. He definitely changes our team, for sure."

Bennett also changes how the other team plays.

When he’s on the ice, opposing players must always keep an eye on him.

“He always keeps the other team on their toes,” said forward Carter Verhaeghe, another one of Bennett’s linemates. “They’re always wondering where he’s at. That helps our team.”

A true competitor, Bennett said it was “torture” having watch from the sidelines from the time he was injured in Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Lighting until his return on Friday.

Even from a distance, teammates could feel his burning desire to get back to work.

“You obviously want to be a part of the experience,” defenseman Brandon Montour said. “Tough time to be out. He obviously worked his way back as quick as he could. … He comes back and he’s the same player. He brings that energy for us. He’s on the quieter side, but on the ice he’s very loud, very physical. He’s the perfect player for playoff hockey.”

That’s probably why they call him “Playoff Sam.”

In 30 playoff games with the Calgary Flames before being acquired by the Panthers in a steal of a deal at the trade deadline in 2021, Bennett registered 18 points (eight goals, 18 assists). In 38 playoff games with Florida, he’s posted 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists).

Since joining the Panthers, he also leads the team with 155 hits in the playoffs.

“I love playoff hockey,” said Bennett, who also often sports the best playoff beard. “It’s a little faster, more physical. Every play is a little more important. You’re able to go out there and lay it all on the line because of how important the game is. I love that opportunity.”

When asked makes him “Playoff Sam,” Maurice flashed a grin.

It’s because that’s who he is even in the regular season.

“He plays hard all year, so when the playoffs come it’s not a different game,” Maurice said. “He’s not playing any harder last week than he was playing in November.”

Bennett will look to build on his strong return to the lineup when the Panthers try to take a 3-1 series lead against the Bruins in Game 4 at TD Garden on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET.

The official watch party in South Florida will be at Baptist Health IcePlex.

Visit for details.