These four areas proved fatal in Bruins' stunning first-round exit originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Bruins had the best regular season in NHL history with a loaded roster that featured so many strengths and almost no weaknesses.
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Elite talent? Check.
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Instead of cruising through the Florida Panthers in the first round, the Bruins' season is already over after a perplexing meltdown that culminated with a 4-3 loss in overtime of Game 7 on Sunday night at TD Garden. The Panthers played really well throughout the series and deserved to win, but the Bruins made it easy for them time after time with uncharacteristic mistakes.
Disastrous end to Bruins' 2022-23 season will haunt the franchise forever
What exactly went wrong for the Bruins in their stunning first-round exit to the Panthers?
Here are four areas where Boston faltered greatly.
The biggest advantage the Bruins had coming into the series was goaltending. Linus Ullmark is almost certainly going to win the Vezina Trophy after becoming just the seventh player in league history to win the goalie triple crown -- leading the league in wins, save percentage and GAA. Backup netminder Jeremy Swayman also ranked top four in save percentage and GAA. The Bruins were the first team ever to have one goalie win 40-plus games and another win 20-plus games.
But in shocking fashion, goaltending was a major weakness through seven games against the Panthers. Ullmark gave up four or more goals in three games, including a season-high six allowed in a Game 6 loss. His turnover in overtime of Game 5 cost the B's a chance to end the series Wednesday night.
It was fair to wonder if Ullmark's historically strong performance in the regular season would continue at the same pace once the playoffs started. It's hard to keep up a .938 save percentage for eight or nine months. A bit of a drop off wouldn't have been surprising, but a significant decline was certainly not expected and that's mostly what the Bruins got from their No. 1 goalie.
In fairness to Ullmark, it didn't look like he was 100 percent healthy in the series, especially in Games 5 and 6. If that's true, the Bruins waited too long to put Swayman in net. Swayman played OK in Game 7, but the first goal was pretty soft. It also was a tough spot for him after not starting a game since April 13.
Goaltending should've carried the Bruins through to at least the second round. Instead, it was a primary factor in why their season is done.
Questionable coaching moves
Jim Montgomery had a rough last couple games.
His line combinations to begin Game 5 when Patrice Bergeron returned to the lineup were pretty strange. It took him about half a period to get back to normal combos featuring guys who had chemistry and familiarity with each other, but by that point the Panthers already had a 1-0 lead and the Bruins were chasing play the rest of the night.
"I think the only thing I can look at right now and say I would have done different is starting Game 5, I would have had (Patrice) Bergeron and (Brad) Marchand together, it took me eight minutes to get to there," Montgomery said after Game 7. "Don’t know if it makes a difference, but you know, that’s the only thing that I look at right now that I would change. I don’t have very much regret with anything that we did, that’s why I said I’d have to analyze more on this series and have a better, more intelligent answer about where we went wrong."
Removing Matt Grzelcyk from the lineup and replacing him with Connor Clifton in Game 6 proved disastrous, too. Grzelcyk didn't deserve to come out based on performance, and his skill set (playmaking, smooth staking, accurate passes up ice to ignite the transition game) would have been helpful against a fast, aggressive Panthers team. Clifton played horribly in Game 6 and two of his turnovers directly resulted in Florida goals.
The goaltending situation is a tough one, too. If Ullmark wasn't 100 percent, which appeared to be the case based on the eye test, then waiting until Game 7 to switch to Swayman was a mistake. Giving Swayman an opportunity in Game 5 or Game 6 with the Bruins leading the series would have been a smart move in hindsight.
Too many turnovers
If you knew nothing about the Bruins' experience and just watched this series, you'd probably think they were playing in the playoffs for the first time based on the abundance of giveaways and bad puck management. But the Bruins are actually one of the most veteran teams in the league and have lots of guys with 20-plus, 30-plus or 40-plus games of postseason experience.
The B's allowed eight goals within five seconds of a 5-on-5 turnover in seven games, per NHL Network. No other team in the playoffs has given up more than four goals in that scenario.
Boston had 15 giveaways in Game 2 and 17 in Game 5. Florida consistently took advantage of these gifts and scored on them.
A couple of turnovers really stand out.
Tyler Bertuzzi threw the puck right to the Panthers in the opening period of Game 5 and Anthony Duclair capitalized for a 1-0 lead.
Ullmark's turnover in overtime of Game 5 was obviously a disaster.
Connor Clifton's pass up the middle of the ice in the first period of Game 6 that led to a Matthew Tkachuk goal stood out, too.
"I thought we didn’t possess pucks well enough, I thought we were just looking to punt pucks not playing our normal puck possession game, when we had it," Montgomery said of his team's play in Game 7. "I thought we defended and checked hard, but we were checking too much because of our puck play."
Panthers' second line dominated
Matthew Tkachuk was the best player in the series. He led all players with 11 points (five goals, six assists). Game 3 was the only matchup in which he was held without a single point. He scored four goals with four assists over the last four games, and the Panthers won three of them. Three of his five goals tied the score or gave Florida a lead.
His linemate, veteran center Sam Bennett, played a huge role in the series, too. He scored a huge go-ahead goal in the second period of Game 2 after the Bruins had completely dominated that frame.
Game 2 was Bennett's first action since March 20. He missed several weeks with a groin injury. Bennett tallied at least a point in every matchup except Game 6 and finished with five points (three goals, two assists) overall.
Bennett and Tkachuk were on the ice and both picked up assists on Carter Verhaeghe's series-winning goal in overtime of Game 7.
“I thought that that Bennett line was pretty dominant, Tkachuk’s an outstanding hockey player and we didn’t contain him," Montgomery said following Game 7. "I thought they always changed the momentum back to them every time they were on the ice pretty much. If I’m looking at the series, that was the biggest difference pretty much.
"If I'm looking at the series, that was the biggest difference, because statistically, our power play was better, that means our penalty kill was better than theirs. You know, there’s a lot of things, but in the end, that line kept making plays -- and they’re on the ice again (for the OT goal), winning a battle behind the net, they score."