The Boston Bruins historic regular season campaign is now in the rearview mirror. Boston torched the rest of the NHL all season long, finishing with a 65-12-5 record, setting league records for most wins in a single season and most points in a single season as well. But none of that matters anymore; what matters is their first round playoff series against the Florida Panthers.
After leading the Eastern Conference, and the entire league for that matter, for most of the 2022-23 season, the Bruins won the Presidents Trophy, and will have home-ice advantage throughout the postseason. That drew them a first round meeting with the second wild card team in the East, which ended up being the Panthers after they went on a nice run to close out the season and sneak into the playoffs.
Thanks to their dominant season, the Bruins are going to be favorites to beat whoever they come across in the playoffs. But playoff hockey is a different beast, and achieving their ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup is going to be easier said than done. So let’s take a closer look at this matchup with the Panthers and see what the Bruins can do to get past them in the first round.
How Bruins can beat Panthers in their first-round playoff series
Despite how good the Bruins have been this season, the playoffs are going to be tough for a couple of reasons. One of them is due to the overall strength of the East; for reference, the Panthers won the Presidents Trophy last season, but only barely snuck into the playoffs this season as a wild card team. The level of competition in the East is very high at the moment.
The Panthers won six of their final eight games to find their way into the playoffs, making them one of the hotter teams in the NHL right now. Of course, Boston finished their season on an eight-game win streak themselves, and they did so while playing most of their key players consistently down the stretch of the season. In that sense, there isn’t really a momentum advantage heading into this series.
In a way, this current Panthers squad feels a bit like Bruins teams of the past that were incredibly top heavy. Boston used to rely almost exclusively on production from their top line, which was notoriously dubbed “The Perfection Line”. That’s not a problem the Bruins have dealt with this season, but it may be one that hurts the Panthers here.
The talent at the top of Florida’s roster is very good. Matthew Tkachuk put together an MVP-caliber campaign (40 goals, 69 assists), Carter Verhaeghe led the way with 42 goals, Sam Reinhart chipped in 31 himself, and Aleksander Barkov put together another strong all-around campaign to remind folks he’s one of the top all around centers in the game. Add in 73 points from defenseman Brandon Montour, and you have the makings of a strong crop of players.
But behind those aforementioned guys, nobody else on the Panthers had more than 43 points this season. When you compare that to the Bruins, who had nine players register 45 points or more, it becomes pretty clear where the biggest advantage lies for Boston right now. They are easily the deepest team in the NHL, and they are going against a Panthers team that really runs two lines deep right now.
The Bruins will have their hands full containing the Panthers top players, but if they can continue to get production from each of their lines like they have been all season long, this series likely won’t be very close. Boston’s top line is obviously dangerous, but their second and third lines vastly out produced the top unit down the stretch of the season, and that makes them even scarier than normal.
There are some areas where Florida will have advantages in this series. Their top line of Verhaeghe/Barkov/Reinhart is lethal, and they are going to find the back of the net one way or another. There’s also Tkachuk, who does a bit of everything on their second line. Florida’s defense as a whole hasn’t been particularly great this season, but they have the talent to flip the switch in the postseason. There’s also Alex Lyon, who has taken over the starting goalie position and was on fire to close the season.
The problem for Florida, though, is that there are a lot of what-ifs surrounding them currently; the Bruins are known to be great. They have the depth to slow down each of the Panthers best players, and their goaltending situation with Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman might just be the best in the league. Things can get crazy in the playoffs, but on paper, this doesn’t look like a close matchup.
One potential area of concern for the Bruins is their power-play unit, which hasn’t been as good as everything else has been for them throughout the season. Chances are the Panthers are going to have to score a lot if they want to win this series, which means Boston cannot pass up man-advantages throughout this series. Having the best penalty-kill in the league helps, but the power-play will have to turn things up a notch in this series.
The Panthers played some good hockey just to make it to the postseason, and there’s a decent chance that will carry over to the playoffs and make this series tougher than it should be for Boston. But the gap between these two teams when they are playing at their best is quite substantial, and it feels like this is a series the B’s shouldn’t have a problem with. The Panthers gave the Bruins a bit of trouble in the regular season, but with the Stanley Cup on the line now, Boston should be able to coast through this first round matchup.
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