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Bennett on Marchand injury: 'No way I would’ve had time to think about punching him'

Sam Bennett and Brad Marchand Sam Bennett and Brad Marchand - The Canadian Press

Florida Panthers forward Sam Bennett defended himself Sunday in the wake on accusations he deliberately punched Brad Marchand in the head while reverse checking the Boston Bruins captain in Game 3 of their second-round series.

Bennett addressed the media for the first time after Florida's 3-2 win in Game 4, which Marchand missed due to an injury sustained on the Bennett hit. 

"I was bracing myself for him coming to hit me. There's no way I would've had time to think about punching him in the head," Bennett told the TNT broadcast after the Panthers took a 3-1 series lead. "People can see it however they want. It's playoff hockey. There's gonna be hard plays. It's unfortunate he got hit, but that's just a hockey play in my mind."

Prior to Sunday's game, Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery took personal responsibility for the Bruins not responding to the hit, stating Bennett "knew what he was doing." The Bruins did not go after Bennett in Game 4, but he was again the subject of controversy as the Bruins challenged a goal citing goaltender interference on Bennett. The goal, which tied the game at 2-2, stood and sent the Panthers back to the power play. Florida took the lead just under four minutes later with the game-winning goal. 

Bennett has a goal and an assist in two games against the Bruins in the series after missing the first two games due to injury. The 27-year-old forward had 20 goals and 41 points in 69 games during the regular season.

Marchand's status for a must-win Game 5 on Tuesday is unclear. The 35 year-old winger has three goals and seven assists in 10 playoff games after posting 29 goals and 67 points in 82 games during the regular season.