The Boston Bruins‘ record-setting 2022-23 campaign came to a shocking end Sunday night with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers in Game 7 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
Boston rewrote the NHL record book this year in posting new all-time marks for wins (65) and points (135). But under the bright lights of the playoffs, the Bruins crumbled, blowing a 3-1 series lead to a Panthers team that finished 43 points behind them in the standings.
The Panthers pulled goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and tied the game 3-3 with one minute to go in regulation before Carter Verhaeghe provided the final dagger in overtime.
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Bruins coach Jim Montgomery made a bold decision by opting to start goalie Jeremy Swayman in Game 7 in place of likely Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark, who started the first six games of the series. Ullmark, 29, led the league in wins (40-6-1 record), save percentage (.938) and goals-against average (1.89) in the regular season, but his uneven play in the postseason played a major part in the Bruins’ undoing. His misplay while handling the puck in Game 5 directly led to Matthew Tkachuk’s overtime winner, and Ullmark yielded six goals in the Panthers’ 7-5 Game 6 win.
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The move to Swayman – who had an impressive season in his own right (24-6-4 record, .920 save percentage) – was a mixed bag. Brandon Montour sneaked a puck through Swayman’s five-hole on the backhand to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead in the first period, and Florida jumped out to a 2-0 advantage early in the second period after a nifty pass set up Sam Reinhart for a rip.
Boston cut the deficit to 2-1 with a power-play goal in the second period and then tied things up with another power-play goal early in the third. The Bruins took a 3-2 lead a few minutes later when star David Pastrnak buried a bad rebound by Bobrovsky. But in the final minute of regulation, the Panthers knotted it back up on another goal from Montour before Verhaeghe got the winner at 8:35 of the first overtime.
With the victory, the Panthers – who had an uneven season under first-year coach Paul Maurice after winning the Presidents’ Trophy last year – advance to play the Toronto Maple Leafs, who won their first playoff series since 2004 by defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
For the Bruins, this shocking finish begins an offseason of big questions. Will captain Patrice Bergeron be back? Will center David Krejci return? There will be time to answer those. Too much, in fact.
Boston finds itself in a similar boat with the 2019 Lightning. That team tied what was then the NHL record for wins (62) but then was shockingly swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round (that Columbus team was led in net by Bobrovsky, who didn’t even start this series and wasn’t particularly great but did enough to get the job done). The Bruins can only hope their story ends in the same way the Lightning’s did: Tampa won the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021 following its historic disappointment.