Who dares take on the Boston Bruins, who just set the record for the best regular season in NHL history? That is the unfortunate fate of the Florida Panthers, who just managed to stumble into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference in the final games of the season.
After it looked like the Bruins would start falling down the standings this season with an aging and injured core, they proved the hockey world wrong. And made a point of showing it by setting records throughout the season marking their success. With depth stacked on depth at every position, the Bruins match up well against every team.
On the other side of the rink, they will be in tough against an incredibly motivated Florida Panthers squad. The Panthers have been on a roll lately as they rocketed up the standings late to sneak into the playoffs. After a noteworthy event where head coach Paul Maurice tore a strip off the players on the bench during a game, the Panthers finally pulled everything together for the late-season push.
But will the Panthers be able to match up against the well-oiled machine that the Bruins possess?
Season statistics and head to head matchup
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Expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and Corsi for % (CF%) stats are in all situations from moneypuck.com.
Boston Bruins storyline to follow
Top teams do not have the greatest record in the playoffs over the past five years. From the Tampa Bay Lightning getting swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Florida Panthers last season getting swept in Round Two, a record-setting regular season is no guarantee for postseason success.
The Boston Bruins are going to challenge that reputation.
After many thought this team would start to falter away as their core begins to age, the depth weakened, and an unexpected coaching change shook things up, that prediction couldn’t have been more wrong.
What ended up happening is an incredible show of depth and talent that propelled the Bruins to one of the best regular seasons of all time. The Bruins were the fastest team in NHL history to hit 80 points and the fastest in history to hit 50 wins. They became the fourth team in NHL history to hit 60 wins and eventually set the all-time single-season wins and points records with 65 wins and 135 points.
The Bruins are going to try and change the narrative on teams who have amazing regular seasons by following it up with a deep playoff run. And beyond this postseason, the question still lingers, how many more seasons will this team be able to stay competitive? It makes sense they went all in on this run with an active trade deadline, bringing in Dmitry Orlov, Garnet Hathaway, and Tyler Bertuzzi to somehow make the Bruins even Bruinsier.
Florida Panthers storyline to follow
The Florida Panthers spent most of this season down-and-out. A disappointing follow-up to their attempt at going all-in in 2021–22 made it look like the team was a one-and-done as a top tier contender.
The offseason was a shocker to many hockey fans as the Panthers made one of the biggest trades in recent years by sending Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar out for Matthew Tkachuk. In addition, Andrew Brunette, their interim coach who led the team to one of the best regular seasons of the past couple decades, was not kept. They brought in Maurice instead.
Understandably so, the Panthers struggled for large portions of the season. They have decimated their depth and prospect pool making these trades. The locker room has undergone significant shifting and turnover, including the core. Florida was unable to replace what Weegar provides to the lineup defensively, so the team struggled in that aspect of the game. And the questionable coaching change looked to be a mistake, until the beginning of March when Maurice used a voice and message the Panthers clearly needed to hear.
Since then, Florida has gone 12–6–2 and pushed to get themselves back into a playoff spot as the teams above them, the Pittsburgh Penguins notably, slumped. A charge that seems largely led by Tkachuk and the energy he brings. His 100+ points helps, as well.
The Eastern Conference is absolutely stacked this season, and the teams the Panthers are likely to face if they want to make it out of the conference will test every facet of this team’s game. Florida has struggled defensively and have given up the most goals of any playoff team, despite receiving league-average goaltending. Will the Panthers be able to shut things down at all in order to even try to compete?
In every position throughout the lineup, the Bruins have the advantage. Even though the Panthers finished the season strong offensively and ended up as the sixth-highest-scoring team in the league, Boston was even better and finished second as one of two teams with over 300 goals on the year.
David Pastrnak, who finished second in the league in goals with 61, leads the way offensively in this series. Though Tkachuk isnt too far behind in points, with 109 to Pastrnak’s 113. Beyond that, the Panthers’ depth matches up, if not surpasses in some areas, the Bruins’ offensively. In point totals at least. If Florida is to find any success in this series, it will have to come from a run-and-gun style of play to outscore their problems.
Boston’s physical style of play, only enhanced by their trade deadline acquisitions, is sure to wear down their opponents and stifle anything they want to try and create. A team trying to play fast will have trouble catching the Bruins sleeping or pressuring them into mistakes as Boston is continually engaged.
Looking at the other sides of the game, the Bruins excel defensively and in net. This is a team with a heavy, physical, and engaged defensive group and a goalie in Linus Ullmark who is a shoo-in for the Vezina Trophy and might even get some Hart Trophy consideration. Boston gave up just 174 goals in the regular season, 36 fewer than the next-best team. Florida better have a good plan to beat this Bruins defence because no one else in the league was able to all season long.
On the other side of the series, the Panthers have a decimated defensive group who may be more offensively inclined than the Bruins’ core, but they are not the strongest defensively. Which is sort of important. Especially when they do not have the type of goaltending that will be stealing games.
Sergei Bobrovsky and Alex Lyon have been solid and just good enough to cover for the team in front of them. But neither have been game changers nor do they matchup up well against Ullmark, or even Swayman for that matter.
Tkachuk is one of the best players in the league in managing the momentum and emotions of the game. He can be a pest and draw his opponents into confrontations and penalties that sap their energy for him to absorb. And with his career highs this season, he has now shown to be an elite threat offensively as well. He might be the Panthers’ only real hope if they want to gain any control in this series.
Going against the Bruins here would be the ultimate hot take. Though it wouldn’t be the first time a top team collapsed early in the playoffs, it is hard to see that happening again.
4–1 Boston Bruins