What happened to the Boston Bruins?


As Carter Verhaeghe netted the overtime winner 8 minutes and thirty-five seconds into overtime, a familiar feeling swept over the TD Garden: disappointment. This year’s does was one that was far more lethal than many of the previous, for the simple reason that the team put up the best regular season in the 106-year history of the NHL. Nevertheless, the team still failed to make it past the opening round, falling to the second wild card Florida Panthers in seven games, despite jumping out to a 3-1 series lead. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to call it the biggest collapse in the history of the sport, in fact, it may very well be true. At the end of the day, the Bruins lost the series in the same way that they had won all year long, with a team effort. There are a myriad of reasons for the collapse, and thus it would be unfair to lay the blame squarely on one person’s shoulders (though there are some players whose play was horrific enough to warrant highlighting). Let’s take a deep dive into the most crucial reasons why this outcome became so. 



Far and away the most devastating wrench in Boston’s Stanley Cup plans was their inability to maintain possession of the puck. The Bruins, throughout the seven-game series, had a proclivity for turning the puck over, posting an average of 13 giveaways per game, including 17 in Game 5 and in Game 7, stifling their offensive production and making their lives harder on the defensive end. The 91 turnovers in the series were the most of any team in the first round, and far outpaced Florida’s mark of 69. In the playoffs, a number that much higher than your opponent simply can’t stand. It was not a problem that plagued the team very much this season (though David Pastrnak did lead the league with 109 giveaways). They placed around the middle of the pack in the league behind some teams still in the playoffs such as Edmonton, Toronto, and Dallas, and only 3 spots ahead of the Panthers. But for whatever reason, Boston could not help but turn the puck over in the first round. Not only could they not hold onto the puck but they also struggled to force turnovers on the defensive side of the ice, as Florida dominated the 5-on-5 possession battle which led to the next reason for Boston’s early exit. 


Defensive Play 

To put it simply, the defensive play by Boston was dreadful all series, particularly by their high-end defenseman. Hampus Lindholm struggled all seven games, posting zero points and only maintaining a +2 plus/minus. Charlie McAvoy was far worse, particularly in the last three games, as he was on the ice for 6 goals against in those games (a plus/minus of -2). McAvoy also helped end the Bruin’s season when his poor positioning in front of the net caused a Brandon Montour shot to deflect off his stick and go over goaltender Jeremy Swayman’s shoulder, who had previously had the shot lined up. McAvoy’s game 7 is one of the biggest letdown performances by a marquee player in recent memory. Brandon Carlo was not nearly as bad, but he had two instances in the series of an inexcusably dumb turnover, as well as an inability to clear the puck that led right to a Florida goal. The last of these turnovers was the series-deciding goal, when Carlo’s clear attempt was intercepted by Sam Bennett and was dumped back into the offensive zone. Boston defenseman had an especially bad game 6, as they helped give up 6 goals (and 1 empty-netter) to a Florida team that only averaged 3.51 goals per game over the course of the regular season. The 3rd pair of defensemen, Derek Forbort and Connor Clifton (more on him later) were notably bad in this game, as both defensemen were on the ice for three Florida goals, including some that were gift-wrapped with boneheaded passes into the neutral zone. 


Jim Montgomery

It was a tough last three games for Boston bench boss and expected Jack Adams trophy winner Jim Montgomery. There were several decisions, and non-decisions, that are worth second-guessing. Now hindsight is 20/20, but the coach’s job is to get his guys prepared and make a change if something’s not working. The Bruins lacked any real adjustments over the last three games, very few lineup changes were made (save for the Clifton insert, which blew up in Montgomery’s face), and Montgomery kept playing players who were clearly hurt, namely Linus Ullmark.


 It should have been clear to anyone that watched more than a period of the first six games of the series that the Bruins’ triple-crown winning goaltender was not right, as his crease movement looked forced and he was often slow getting up from the ice. Up 3 games to 1, Montgomery should have definitely inserted backup Jeremy Swayman, who also had a stellar season, into the net. 


At worst, they would have lost the game, which they did anyways, and at best the series would have been over with them playing a healthy goaltender. Even after game 5, Montgomery still chose not to start Swayman, letting an injured Ullmark give up 6 goals in the turning point of the series. Ultimately the sophomore-season goaltender did get the game seven nod, to which he did play admirably (and would have probably come away with the victory had it not been for an errant Charlie McAvoy stick), but by then it was too little too late. 


Another second guess is that maybe Patrice Bergeron should have just sat out the first round this year. It’s understandable wanting to play him in game 5, thinking it would make your team better having him back in the lineup, and wanting to send Florida home early, but that was not the case. Bergeron’s insertion into the lineup arguably made the team perform worse, and his performance in particular left a lot to be desired. 


Over the 3 games the captain played in the series, he scored one goal, zero assists, and was -6 over 58:31 of ice time. Now it’s understandable that his play was this bad, considering the fact that he was playing with a herniated disc in his back, but knowing that Montgomery should have decided not to play him. Sometimes guys play worse when they are hurt, in fact, most of the time they do. 


5-on-5 offense

The Bruins’ 5-on-5 attack was virtually non-existent throughout these 7 games. During even-strength play they were consistently and constantly manhandled by the underdog Panthers, looking like they had no answer for the tenacity and forechecking abilities of players like Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe, Brandon Montour, and Aleksander Barkov. The Bruins only scored 13 of their 27 goals in the series during 5-on-5 time, with 7 of those coming in games 3 and 4. They managed only two in the last two games. What kept the Bruins in the series and in the last three games was the fact that their power play was absolutely lethal, chipping in a goal at a ridiculous 40.7% rate. Had the Bruins brought even a fraction of the 5-on-5 ability that they demonstrated during the season, posting one of the best team goal differentials of all time, this series should have ended in game 5. 



Another season, another disappointing end for the Bruins. It’s an outcome that has been all too familiar for this Bruins core. Patrice Bergeron will undoubtedly go down as one the best Bruins of all time, but the fact that he will retire with fewer Stanley Cups than Phil Kessel is both laughable and true. 

Time and time again these Bruins teams with tons of talent have choked in the playoffs. 2010, 2013, 2014, 2019, 2020, and now 2023 stand out as times the Bruins seemed unbeatable but fell short of their goal. It stings and it’s a horrible way to end a season, but this last collapse summarizes Patrice Bergeron’s time as a Bruin pretty well. For the rest of the team, changes will be coming. Bergeron will most likely retire, Krejci is pretty much a lock, and Dmitry Orlov reportedly is open to signing with Boston, but would rather return to Washington. 

The Bruins only have 6M in cap space to retain free agents Tyler Bertuzzi, Nick Foligno, Garnet Hathaway, Tomas Nosek, and Connor Clifton. The Bruins should pursue Bertuzzi as much as they can and consider themselves lucky if they can get any of the other guys back. As I’m writing this article the Panthers currently hold a 3-0 lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team with the second-best record in the league, so maybe they’re just catching lightning in a bottle. Even if that’s true, it wouldn’t make this epic collapse any less painful.