01 May, 2023
Another coronation was taking place in Boston a few days before King Charles III was to be officially installed as monarch in England. Or at least that’s how it felt during Game 1 of the Boston Bruins vs. Florida Panthers series.
The 2022–23 Bruins broke new league records for wins (65) and points (135) in a single season, making them the most successful regular-season club in NHL history. Even if you didn’t think the Bruins would win the Stanley Cup, it seemed certain that they would make it all the way through the playoffs. It was like seeing the trailers before the main event in their first-round series against the Florida Panthers.
When it wasn’t.
On Sunday night, the Panthers overcame deficits of 3-1 in the series and 3-2 in Game 7 with one minute left in regulation to knock the Bruins out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. A championship certainty was put to rest inside TD Garden’s hushed morgue after Carter Verhaeghe’s goal at 8:35 of extra.
“It stings. You put in a lot of effort and fight all year long for it,” said captain Patrice Bergeron. We feel shocked and let down.
What happened? Here are five potential explanations for how the Boston Bruins ended up becoming yet another regular-season behemoth to lose in the playoffs.
After the Florida Panthers defeated the Boston Bruins 4-3 in overtime in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Sunday, the Boston Bruins, who broke regular-season success records for the NHL, were eliminated.
Carter Verhaeghe scored for the Panthers at 8:35 of overtime, breaking the Bruins faithful’s horrified quiet.
Sam Bennett of Florida battled valiantly on the forecheck to get the puck to Verhaeghe. Verhaeghe had space to score his second of the series as Matthew Tkachuk screened Jeremy Swayman in the goal.
Staring at a post-game score sheet, Tkachuk stated, “It hasn’t really sank in yet. It’s incredible how much talent exists in Boston. It’s remarkable that we were able to do what we did given all they accomplished all season, and that we even managed to defeat them in the playoffs.
Florida advances to the second round where they will play the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Toronto Maple Leafs won their first playoff series since 2004 by defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
“It didn’t matter how it ended. Simply put, the season is done. Jim Montgomery, the head coach of the Boston Bruins, said: “I believe the words that spring to me right now are disappointment and perplexity.
After falling down 3-1 in the series, the Panthers completed their comeback by defeating Boston by winning three consecutive games. On a goal by defenseman Brandon Montour with one minute remaining in regulation, they rallied to force overtime.
Tkachuk said, “We were two minutes away from being in a pretty depressed mindset right now. But [Montour] saved the day. We are still here to fight tomorrow.
The 2022–23 Bruins established league records for wins (65) and points (135) in a season, making them the most successful regular-season club in NHL history.
However, the pressure of leading the NHL from start to finish came along with that success. It’s not about the regular season, as winger Brad Marchand said to ESPN in March. Nobody cares if you win the Presidents’ Trophy but not the Cup. On this team, we are aware of that.
Boston also had to contend with the NHL’s “Presidents’ Trophy Curse,” which states that the top regular-season club often performs poorly in the playoffs. Since the initial awarding of the trophy in the 1985–86 season, 11 regular-season champions have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, with eight of them taking home the trophy. Since the NHL adopted the wild-card structure in 2013–14, no Presidents’ Trophy winner has made it to the Stanley Cup Final.
Presidents’ Trophy winners in the past have cited a lack of regular-season difficulty as one factor in their lack of postseason success. Montgomery downplayed it as an influence, although he did say that there was some hangover from the Bruins’ prior postseason success.
“I do believe that our first two games we played, we weren’t ready for the intensity of Stanley Cup playoffs, and I think that goes with the regular season,” he added. But by Games 5, 6, and 7, we were firmly established. Where it becomes a bit stupefying is there.
The Bruins are the most recent regular-season standings leaders to be ousted in the first round of the playoffs, joining the 2018–19 Tampa Bay Lightning, whose regular-season victories Boston had eclipsed this season.
By chance, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky and the Panthers’ general manager Bill Zito were both on that Lightning squad when they were swept in the first round.
Before Game 7, the Bruins made their riskiest coaching choice of the series by starting the 24-year-old Swayman in place of starting goalie Linus Ullmark.
Ullmark started the first six games of the series against the Panthers, despite the fact that Boston utilized both goalies throughout the regular season—Ullmark (40-6-1) played 49 games while Swayman (24-6-4) played 37 games. Swayman hadn’t started a game since the Bruins’ season finale against Montreal on April 13 despite making a short stint in Game 4.
As the pregame lineups were announced at TD Garden before Game 7, the crowd erupted in loud cheers for Swayman. But as the Bruins hesitated to take shots on goal and committed three minor penalties in the first period, the crowd quickly became frustrated.
In the last seconds of a first-period power play, the Panthers scored first on a stunning give-and-go move. The play was initiated by Bobrovsky, who placed the puck for Montour. He sped into the neutral zone and threw the puck to Anton Lundell in the middle, who promptly sent it back to Montour as he skated through all four Bruins penalty killers. At 12:23, he executed a fast backhand flip to defeat Swayman and take the lead.
Sam Reinhart’s fourth postseason goal, a shot past Swayman from the slot, gave Florida a 2-0 lead at 1:14 of the second period.
David Krejci, Boston’s most dependable postseason player, gave the team its first goal at 7:52. A tripping penalty put defender Marc Staal in the box, and Krejci’s shot from the left side past Bobrovsky.
In 160 postseason games, he has scored 43 times in the playoffs.
Following a roughing penalty against Montour by David Pastrnak, the Bruins were able to tie the game early in the third period while on the power play. Just 55 seconds into the period, defenseman Dmitry Orlov’s shot was assisted by forward Tyler Bertuzzi.
At 4:11 in the third, Pastrnak began to play the role of the hero. The shot from defenseman Brandon Carlo bounced past goalie Bobrovsky’s pads and fell right to Pastrnak, who had 61 goals during the regular season. In front of a now-crazed TD Garden crowd, he scored his fifth goal of the series to give Boston its first lead in Game 7. He then leaped through the glass in celebration.
However, the Panthers tied Game 7 at 3-3 with one minute remaining in regulation, and Bobrovsky was pulled, shocking the crowd. Patrice Bergeron, the captain of the Boston Bruins, deflected Aleksander Barkov’s shot from the top of the zone to Montour, whose fast shot past Swayman for his second goal of the game. While Panthers players hugged each other on the bench, his teammates surrounded him against the boards.
Swayman made a great save on a Verhaeghe attempt and denied Panthers standout Tkachuk on a breakaway early in overtime. However, the Panthers managed to score the game-winning goal.
Verhaeghe said, “They had a crazy regular season.” But the postseason is totally different. We had a wild regular season the previous year, but it really didn’t matter.
With 122 points in the standings and a second-round loss to Tampa Bay, the Panthers won the Presidents’ Trophy the previous year.
In addition to ending the Bruins’ season, the elimination may also mark the end of an era. Both Bergeron and Krejci are unrestricted free agents. While Krejci has played for 16 NHL seasons, Bergeron is in his 19th. The two veterans wanted to be sent out with a Stanley Cup victory, and Boston players openly discussed doing that.
The surprised Bruins stood on the ice next to their bench after the teams’ handshake line. Before the players retired to their locker room, Bergeron skated to center ice to thank the crowd.
After the game, Bergeron, 37, said he would think things over and decide what to do next. Additionally, he disclosed that a herniated disk in his back caused him to miss the first four games of the series. In the three games Bergeron participated in the series, the Panthers won.
He stuck around the ice to greet his departing colleagues, including his seasoned linemate Marchand.
“He’s really the ideal individual, both on and off the rink. Such a fantastic leader, very motivated, amazing family guy, wonderful parent, and fantastic friend,” Marchand remarked. I’ll always be appreciative of him.