Bruins-Panthers First Round Preview
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After a historic 2022-23 Regular Season where we saw the Boston Bruins post an outstanding 65-12-5 record with 135 pts throughout the 82-game regular season, everything re-sets to zero and the road to the Stanley Cup begins. Just 16 wins are needed to claim hockey's ultimate prize while four losses of any kind will end the season.
The Bruins and Panthers are to meet in the postseason for the second time, this is also the first playoff match-up in NHL History where the Presidents Trophy winning team is playing the team that won the award last year. Last postseason the Bruins were defeated by the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games. In that series, the visiting team did not win a single game. The Panthers last year were able to get by the Washington Capitals in six games before being swept by the Lightning in the second round. Obviously these two teams had very different seasons. The last time these two teams met in the postseason was 1996 where Florida beat the Bruins in the first round in five games.
The Panthers came into the season as one of the favorites but definitely struggled throughout various parts of the season and also had issues in net as Sergei Bobrovsky certainly struggled in net this season going 24-20-3 posting a save percentage at .901 with a goals against average of 3.07. The Panthers were led in scoring by Matthew Tkachuk with 40 goals & 69 assists with gave him a total of 109 points on the season while playing 79 games. The Panthers struggled down the stretch of the season but were able to claw their way into the postseason as the 4th seed in the Atlantic & the second wild card spot behind the New York Islanders. The Panthers went 2-2 against the Bruins this season, one of just two teams to beat the Bruins twice. The other team being the Ottawa Senators.
As for the Bruins, they came out of the gate firing on all cylinders with very few holes in their game if any. Whatever head coach Jim Montgomery said to the team when training camp opened up in September, he obviously got the message through. He wanted the Bruins to play a balanced game. Defenseman getting involved on offense, the forwards playing lock down defense. It's obviously worked as the Bruins broke multiple records throughout the season. The Bruins were lead in scoring by David Pastrnak who certainly had himself a year. 61 goals 52 assists, tallying a total of 113 points and played in each of Boston's 82 games this season. The goaltending for this Bruins team was unbelievable as Linus Ullmark had a career year and showed to everyone that he was deserving of the contract he got in the summer of 2021. Ullmark had a goals against average of 1.89, save percentage of .938, played in 49 games going 40-6-1. Should absolutely being the leading canindate if not the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the leagues top goaltender. The Bruins went 2-1-1 against the Panthers this season. Both victories coming in Boston and both defeats happening in Florida.
Key players to watch: As mentioned earlier, Matthew Tkachuk is going to be all over the ice, as will Captain Alexander Barkov ; gritty veteran Eric Staal; Anthony Duclair; defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Marc Staal. The Panthers are a tough physical team, a good first test for the Bruins. Obviously for the Bruins it's David Pastrnak, but also you have Pavel Zacha, Jake DeBrusk, Brad Marchand, Captain Patrice Bergeron, Hampis Lindolm, Charlie McCoy; just go down the entire Bruins line up. However if you're Florida, keep an eye on Tyler Bertuzzi as he get in front of the net and deflect behind the goaltender.
Expected goaltenders: The Panthers have a question mark in net as Bobrovsky has struggled this season, while Alex Lyon has played a bulk of the games recently which helped Florida get in this position, most likely he will be in net for the Panthers when this series kicks off. As for the Bruins, there is no wrong option in net. Montgomery can go either Swayman or Ullmark at anytime. After leaving the game early against Washington & not traveling to Montreal, Ullmark has been a full go at practice which indicates that he's okay and that he will most likely be the Game One starter, although there is no confirmation of that. Again Ullmark had a GAA of 1.83 throughout the season so he's the most likely choice. The Bruins have done the goalie rotation all season long so it will be interesting to see if they do the same in the playoffs.
Keys to a series victory: The Panthers need to play the Bruins like they did in the four regular season meetings, tough and physical, but there will be more to that. Need to find a way to shut down Pastrnak and make him a non-factor. Need to capitalize on the man advantage. The Bruins had theist penally kill in the NHL this season so scoring while on the Power-Play will be huge for the Panthers. Pepper the goaltender with shots, regardless of who is net. Crash net, take away space in the crease. Win all the neutral zone battles as well. If the Panthers can throw the Bruins off their game, the Panthers could pull off the upset. As the Bruins, not much really needs to change. Play the exact same way you've been playing all season. However, down the stretch the power-play has struggled, so like the Panthers, need to capitalize on power play opportunities and stay out of the penalty box. The Bruins have gotten themselves in trouble this season with a parade to the box, limit the penalties, everything will be okay. Keep all four lines involved in the game as what has been done all year. Continuing to get contributions from Trent Frederic; Nick Foligno; Tomas Nosek; A.J. Greer and countless others.
This is not a cake walk series for the Bruins by any means. It's the Stanley Cup Playoffs, any one team can get hot and make a run. Even the best of the best can be beaten. I don't see this series being quick by any means. Someone is going to have win a game on the road in order to win this series. That part is obvious. You can this series can remind you of the 2019 first round series between the Lightning & Blue Jackets, Tampa probably looked past Columbus; let their guard down, Columbus used that to their advantage and ended up sweeping the Lightning out of the playoffs. Can the same thing happen to Boston? It's definitely possible but highly unlikely. This team is laser focused and their minds set on only on goal. This team knows that they have to take it one game at a time. Ultimately, the Bruins will take this series in six games over the Panthers. Boston's depth will be too much for Florida, they will battle hard, but it just won't be enough.
Series kickoffs off Monday Night at the Garden.
Series Breakdown: *if necessary
GAME 1: Mon. 4/17 @ Bruins - 7:30pm on ESPN, NESN; Radio: 98.5 The Sports Hub
GAME 2: Wed. 4/19 @ Bruins - 7:30pm on ESPN, NESN; Radio: 98.5 The Sports Hub
GAME 3: Fri. 4/21 @ Panthers - 7:30pm on TNT, NESN; Radio: 98.5 The Sports Hub
GAME 4: Sun. 4/23 @ Panthers - 3:30pm on TNT, NESN; Radio: 98.5 The Sports Hub
*GAME 5: Wed. 4/26 @ Bruins - TBD
*GAME 6: Fri. 4/28 @ Panthers - TBD
*GAME 7: Sun. 4/30 @ Bruins -TBD
All Bruins first round playoff games will be televised regionally on NESN. 98.5 The Sports Hub will have the local radio call for all Bruins playoff games.