The Boston Bruins were eliminated from the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs in the first round.
Read that again.
After a historic regular season, the Black and Gold folded, not only giving up a 3-1 series lead but also the final chance to lift the Cup with its core group of guys. While it was a meltdown of epic proportions for the B’s, the Florida Panthers deserve all the credit. This first-round battle was not just a story of Boston falling apart, but one of Florida showing up.
A team with nothing to lose is dangerous in the postseason. Playing with house money, the Panthers gutted out one of the biggest upsets in NHL history.
A Brandon Montour tying goal with a minute left in the third period and a Carter Verhaeghe snipe in overtime secured the Game 7 victory for Florida, punching its ticket to face Toronto in the second round.
“Belief was there and then once we got to overtime, I think we took over,” Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “Let’s be honest, nobody in the whole world thought we were going to win this series except for the guys in that room. It’s a pretty cool feeling right now.”
Tkachuk’s right: The entire hockey world was betting against his team, and for good reason.
The Bruins stampeded through the regular season, stringing together a record-breaking 65-12-5 record and a league-high 135 points. Boston — who lost just four games on home ice during the regular season — clinched a playoff spot on March 12.
Florida, on the other hand, snuck into the second wild-card spot three days before their regular season concluded with just one more point than the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Panthers were playing elimination hockey for a month before meeting the Bruins, and that might’ve been the difference-maker.
Heading into the first round, 43 points separated the two squads. However, the best part about the playoffs is that it evidently doesn’t matter at all. There was only one team in the series that played with enough desperation and heart, and it wasn’t the 2023 Presidents’ Trophy winner.
“Extremely disappointing, especially with the team we had. It’s not where we want to be,” Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron said. “Proud of everything we’ve accomplished with this group, and I said that many times. It’s a special group on many levels.”
One of the more shocking aspects of this series is that the Bruins simply got outplayed. It wasn’t fluke goals and lucky bounces that shifted the tide for the Panthers, it was their own hustle and effort.
“I thought Florida was the better team tonight, just being honest,” Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said. “Our wall play wasn’t good enough. Give them credit, they were ultra-aggressive and caused a lot of extra opportunities in the offensive zone.”
Looking at Game 7 specifically, Boston, who was the most versatile and deep team both up front and on the blueline this season, turned into a one-dimensional group with little puck-management abilities.
The home team was sloppy in the neutral zone, weak on pucks in the corner and slow in transition. The Bruins had 18 giveaways, the most they’ve coughed up in the entire series.
I think everyone, including the guys on the Boston bench, was just waiting for things to eventually click — as they have all year long. But the Panthers played a smothering 60-plus minutes of hockey and were relentless in all three zones.
Florida walked into TD Garden, skated a 300-foot game and threw the Bruins’ record right back in their face.
“Game 7, anything can happen. Boys showed up tonight, proud of this group,” Montour said. “Just overall, it was the next man up. We came with injuries, next guy comes up and plays big. Goalies, everyone played big. We just kept moving.”
The Panthers’ forecheck was absolutely jumping and their tenacity in 50/50 puck battles is what ultimately won them the game and the series. Florida truly just put their heads down and worked, earning every inch of ice, and in turn, created pressure in the offensive zone that the Bruins could not handle.
“I think we’re trying to create chaos in the sense of being in their zone, being around their net, shooting a ton of pucks,” Tkachuk said. “We’ve got a lot of players that can play any style, so I think we’re comfortable in any type of game.”
For all his antics, Matthew Tkachuk carried his team through this series. His fiery edge is exactly what an underdog group needs in the playoffs. Records this, Presidents’ Trophy that –– Tkachuk did not give a damn.
He was a hard-nosed pest on the ice with a boatload of talent, a combination that made him the worst kind of guy to play against.
The game-winning overtime goal does not happen without Tkachuk. He battled for the puck behind the net with Boston’s Brad Marchand and Brandon Carlo, popped the rubber out to Sam Bennett and immediately stationed himself in front of the net to screen Boston goalie Jeremy Swayman while Verhaeghe’s shot soared in.
With five goals and six assists in the series, Tkachuk backed up his trash talk and spirited postgame comments with a stellar performance on the ice. Grit and belief clearly go a long way.
At the end of the day, the better team won, and it’s shocking it wasn’t the Boston Bruins.
The worst part about all of this for the B’s is that it was completely on them. Up 3-1 with all the experience and talent in the world, the Bruins let it slip through their fingers. That’s why those players and fans will never get over this.
That’s why the Florida Panthers are one of the most baller teams in the league now.
“I don’t think you can find a harder team to play against than the Boston Bruins. They’re just that good,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said. “So it’s a proving ground that you get to keep, certainly for our next game … the players here now have a shared experience of what hard is.”
Florida has another tall task at hand in a series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they’ve set a strong example for themselves of how they must play to win. The Panthers will celebrate this one, and then it’s on to the next. Let’s see what they have left in the tank.