Blame for Bruins’ Playoff Collapse Spreads Deep in Locker Room

All season long, the Boston Bruins were the best team in the regular season, setting a new record with 65 wins and 135 points. At the trade deadline, general manager (GM) Don Sweeney went out and added Dmitry Orlov, Garnet Hathaway, and Tyler Bertuzzi to make his roster one that would set up the Black and Gold for a deep postseason run.

As is the case in all sports, it doesn’t matter what you do in the regular season, but how you do in the postseason. The 2022-23 Boston Bruins will be remembered not for the historic regular season, but for the historic first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Florida Panthers in seven games.

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Leading the series 3-1 through four games and two wins in Florida, the Bruins needed to win just one of their final three remaining games of the series to advance. Instead, they put together two of their worst efforts of the season with a 4-3 Game 5 loss in overtime, then a disheartening 7-5 loss in Game 6 where they were outscored 4-3 in the third period. In Game 7, it was another overtime loss, 4-3 again, and it was more defensive zone breakdowns that led to their historic collapse. To add insult to injury, the allowed a goal with a minute left to force overtime, then lost in the extra session on sloppy defensive zone coverage.

Related: 3 Takeaways From Bruins’ 4-3 Game 7 Overtime Loss to Panthers

Now with their season over, who takes the blames for this historic elimination? It’s easy really on who to blame and it’s not the one who would think that Bruins fans would want to blame.

Sweeney Is Not to Blame for Their Playoff Collapse

During his tenure as GM, Sweeney has been a punching bag for the Bruins fanbase. Sometimes he has warranted the criticism and sometimes not. After signing a new contract last summer to return, this is not on him.

Don Sweeney Boston Bruins
Don Sweeney, General Manager of the Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On Boston’s late February road trip, Sweeney acquired Orlov and Hathaway from the Washington Capitals. In their first game with the Black and Gold, Taylor Hall went down with a knee injury, before Nick Foligno also joined with a knee injury in a Feb. 28 loss to the Calgary Flames. With the trade deadline just two days away, Sweeney went to work and acquired Bertuzzi from the Detroit Red Wings, knowing that his team needed depth to finish out the regular season.

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He surrendered two first rounds picks, this season and next season, to complete the deals. With this likely being the last chance for the Bruins remaining core, it was a move that needed to be made. Sweeney told the locker room that the front office was all in and gave them the keys to the car with the two trades. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they crashed the car in the opening round of the playoffs.

Bruins Players & Coaches Get All the Blame

The easy way out is for management to take the fall for postseason failures, but this is one that is squarely on the players and coaches. Nobody else. 

For 82 games in the regular season, the Bruins paid attention to detail, they had outstanding puck management, and they were organized and effective in the defensive zone in front of goalies Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. Their play in the offensive zone was a suffocating forecheck, getting pucks to the net, getting goals from their entire lineup, and scoring goals in the dirty areas on the inside near the opponent’s net. That wasn’t the case against the Panthers.

Puck management was an issue all over the ice. Passes were off, the failure to get clean zone sits and just clearing the puck in general was extremely alarming. It just wasn’t the defensemen, but also the forwards. Turnover after turnover they made, Florida capitalized on. Whether it was in the defensive zone or center ice, the Panthers’ transition game proved to be tough for the President Trophy-winning Bruins to handle. Let’s not forget the inexcusable turnover and hiccup that Ullmark had in Game 5 in overtime that led to Matthew Tkachuk extending the series with a goal. 

Matthew Tkachuk Florida Panthers Linus Ullmark Boston Bruins
Matthew Tkachuk of the Florida Panthers scores the game winning goal on Linus Ullmark of the Boston Bruins during overtime in Game 5 of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

To compound matters, Boston’s top-ranked penalty kill was figured out by Florida first-year coach Paul Maurice and his coaching staff. As the series went on, they got production from their man advantage and it came from in front of the net where Sam Reinhart scored a key goal in Game 5 and Tkachuk in Game 6. During the regular season, the Bruins found a way to kill a penalty and clear the puck when given the opportunity. Tkachuk’s power-play goal in Game 6 was a failure from Brandon Carlo to clear the puck. After Jake DeBrusk gave the Bruins the lead with a shorthanded goal, Carlo had the puck on his stick, behind the Bruins’ net and no one around. He lost control of the puck before he could clear it and seconds later Tkachuk tied the game. Puck management was a failure of the Bruins in seven games.

Coach Jim Montgomery pushed all the right buttons in the regular season but pushed more wrong ones than the right ones in this series and was outcoached by Maurice. He panicked with his lineup before Game 5 and when Patrice Bergeron returned to the lineup after missing four games with an injury, he broke up Bergeron and Brad Marchand for the first time in how long? Then in Game 6, it was clear the Ullmark has been playing with something bothering him and he stuck with him during the game instead of going to Swayman after Aleksander Barkov gave the Panthers a 3-2 lead in the second period. That would have been the perfect time to pull the potential Vezina Trophy winner and put in the kid who proved last season in the playoffs that he was more than capable of handling the pressure of the postseason.

Jim Montgomery Boston Bruins
Jim Montgomery, Boston Bruins head coach (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Offensively, Marchand led the way with four goals and six assists, followed by Bertuzzi with five goals and five assists, and Taylor Hall with five goals and three assists. Orlov had eight assists, Jake DeBusk (two goals, four assists) had six points and Charlie McAvoy had five assists. David Pastrnak, who had 61 goals in the regular season, had five in the series, but the Bruins needed a little more from him. In an even more weird twist, the Bruins won three of the first four games without Bergeron in the lineup and lost the final three games with him in the lineup.

It was the worst seven-game stretch that the defense played as a group all season long. Not even close. Derek Forbort and Connor Clifton were not a good pair and were exposed big time in Game 6. McAvoy and Orlov had multiple defensive zone turnovers, Matt Grzelcyk was effective when he was in the lineup and Carlo had a good series by his standards and appeared to score a key goal in Game 6 in the second period to break a 2-2 tie, but it was called back on a questionable hand pass call on DeBrusk. All season as a unit, they were stout, but the playoffs are a different animal and they struggled at the worst possible time.

There is no way to put it, the Boston Bruins failed themselves in the playoffs and the blame runs deep throughout the locker room. They were set up to make a deep run and were the favorite to win the championship, but instead of embracing the moment, they wilted under pressure and suffer the most historic playoff elimination in NHL history. This is something that always will be over the organization. It’s going to be a long offseason in Boston and if this is how Bergeron and David Krejci go out in their career, well they deserved better, a lot better.