Winning 16 games to hoist the Stanley Cup was going to be a challenge for the Boston Bruins, despite their historic regular season. It’s the hardest championship to win in sports. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they not only made the regular season, but also playoff history.
Leading the Florida Panthers, 3-1, through the first five games of the first-round Eastern Conference series, they lost the final three games, two at home in overtime and one shootout, 7-5, on the road at FLA Live Arena. Just like that, the season ends 13 wins shy of their goal and in reality, they have no one to blame but themselves. With that said, here is the final Bruins’ 3 Up, 3 Down for the 2022-23 season.
Plus One: Tyler Bertuzzi
If there was one consistent forward who came up with big goals besides Taylor Hall, it was Tyler Bertuzzi. He tied the game in Game 6 when he redirected a Brandon Carlo shot and then did the same thing a minute into the third period of Game 7 when he redirected a Dmitry Orlov shot.
Bertuzzi and Hall each led the Bruins with five goals in the series, but he was also a net-front presence in the series. He made a nice pass to David Pastrnak for a third-period power-play goal in Game 6 and played well on whichever top-six line he was on. Yes, he did have some hiccups in the defensive end, but he wasn’t the only one. He was a nice addition at the trade deadline and raised his stock for free agency this summer in his first career playoff series.
Minus One: Jim Montgomery
All season long, Jim Montgomery pushed the right buttons when it came to lineup decisions, but the same can’t be said for the series. After playing Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand together all season long when both were in the lineup together, he inexplicably broke them up for Game 5 when the captain returned to the lineup. That breakup lasted just eight minutes before it was switched back, but the damage was already done in terms of the Bruins getting off to a slow start.
There were other questionable decisions in the series, such as not playing Jeremy Swayman until Game 7 with Linus Ullmark clearly not near 100%, as well as his healthy scratches on defense. Matt Grzelcyk was a scratch in three games and Connor Clifton and Derek Forbort were liabilities, but Forbort never sat. It’s going to be a long offseason for Boston’s first-year coach, who was outcoached by Paul Maurice.
Plus Two: Brandon Carlo
It was a rough series for the Black and Gold in the defensive end, but one player that was probably their best defenseman was Brandon Carlo. He played a big part in the offense as well in Games 6 and 7, but a lot like other players such as Bertuzzi and Hall, it just wasn’t enough.
He appeared to give the Bruins a 3-2 second-period lead in Game 6 when his slap shot from the point beat Sergei Bobrovsky, but it was called back when Florida challenged for a hand pass by Jake DeBrusk. He ended up picking up the primary assist on Bertuzzi’s third-period goal. In Game 7, he joined the offensive rush and took a shot with a purpose that Bobrovsky stopped, but the puck went to Pastrnak who one-timed a shot under the crossbar for a lead. For as bad as the defense played, Carlo was the one bright spot, if there was one.
Minus Two: Defensive Zone Breakdowns & Puck Management
In the overall picture of the series, this is the biggest reason why the Bruins suffered the first-round upset. The play in the defensive end, by both the defensemen and forwards, was bad in all seven games.
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It seemed like every time the Bruins had a giveaway or failed to clear the puck in the defensive zone, it ended up in the back of the net. All season long the Bruins took pride in the play in front of Swayman and Ullmark, but it was their undoing against Florida. To the Panthers’ credit, they made the Bruins pay and pay mightly. Charlie McAvoy had a bad series in terms of turning the puck over, and Clifton was also bad. Hampus Lindholm did not play well in all facets and Bertuzzi was one of their best offensive zone players, but had a bad series in the defensive end with a key giveaway that led to a goal in Game 5 and failing to clear the puck when given the opportunity.
Plus Three: Jeremy Swayman
It took until Game 7 to get Swayman between the pipes and the youngster was up to the challenge. Yes, he wants Brandon Montour’s first-period power-play goal back that got by him between his legs, but the other three goals he had no chance on.
He stopped Matthew Tkachuk in overtime on a breakaway a minute into the extra session and then made three more saves before Carter Verhaeghe’s shot through a screen beat him for the series winner. I get that you want to ride the potential Vezina Trophy winner, but at some point before Game 7, it might have been best to turn to Swayman. Ullmark was clearly not well physically and fighting the puck. The time to make the move would have been in the second period of Game 6 after Aleksander Barkov gave the Panthers a 3-2 lead. Regardless, you have to think that Swayman is the goalie of the future in Boston.
Minus Three: Third-Period Breakdowns
The Bruins were the best team in many areas during the regular season, including their domination in the third period to put games away. That was far from the case in Games 6 and 7.
Trailing 3-2 entering the final period in Game 6, they scored two goals early in the period to take a 4-3 lead before Florida tied it. After a Jake DeBrusk shorthanded goal gave them the lead with under 10 minutes left, Tkachuk answered back 17 seconds later. In Game 7, they once again trailed entering the final 20 minutes and took the lead on goals from Bertuzzi and Pastrnak, but were forced to overtime when Montour’s shot with a minute left deflected off of McAvoy and sent the deciding game to overtime.
If the Bruins were playing the game they played in the regular season, they close out either game in the third period. Their attention to detail, the play in the defensive zone, the giveaways, and the all-around sloppiness caught up with them. Does this sudden postseason exit cause the front office to act in a way they were hoping not to? Probably as there is going to be change with eight unrestricted free agents (UFAs), two key restricted free agents (RFAs), and very little cap space. General manager (GM) Don Sweeney has his work cut out for him before training camp in September.