A Fairytale With a Bad Ending

The fairytale Bruins season has ended in a nightmare. This is a loss that will forever haunt the Bruins organization, and leave their fanbase mourning for years to come. So what exactly happened?

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The most points in NHL history (135), the most wins in NHL history (65), the fastest team to 100 points in NHL history, a 61-goal scorer in David Pastrňák, one of the most dominant goaltending tandems in history in Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman and a plethora of individual awards topped with the President’s Trophy. These were all hallmarks of the Boston Bruins’s 2022-2023 season, where they became not only the NHL’s best team in history but possibly the best team across all sports history, bar none. 

These feats did not seem to be on the horizon to start the season; instead, the Bruins looked to be gearing up for rebuild mode. Head Coach Bruce Cassidy had been fired, captain Patrice Bergeron was contemplating retirement, the team was littered with serious injuries to key players, and the aging core looked in need of a revamp. 

But with Bergeron signing a one-year extension, the uniting of the Czech line with Pastrňak, Pavel Zacha, and the returning David Kreijči, Ullmark putting up a Vezina-caliber season, and new coach Jim Montgomery assembling a successful roster that benefitted the Bruins’s top players and enabled breakout seasons, the Boston Bruins were red hot for the entire season.

And after seeing them with my own eyes in a 3-1 suffocation of the New York Islanders, I can vouch for the fact that the Bruins were the real deal, and it was obvious they were the uncontested favorites to win the Stanley Cup Playoffs because they had the whole league trembling with fear. 

And then they blew it. 

Their heartbreaking Game 7 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers left the hockey world stunned. David had beaten Goliath. The fairytale Bruins season ended in a nightmare. This loss will forever haunt the Bruins organization and leave their fanbase mourning for years to come. Why did this happen? Well, it’s simple:They choked. 

The Florida Panthers barely scraped into the playoffs with a wildcard spot, finishing with a whopping 43 points fewer than the Bruins. This should have been an easy series for Boston to win, and despite missing both Kreijči and Bergeron, they did indeed start as expected, jumping to a 3-1 series lead. But there were serious warning signs. The Bruins looked like an anxious team. Game 2 was emblematic of that: a 6-3 collapse on home ice, with a majority of the goals conceded coming off of, as Montgomery put it, “catastrophic” turnovers. The Bruins had 15 turnovers in that game when they averaged just 9.43 per game for the entire season. These catastrophic turnovers were the result of poor decision-making, undoubtedly stemming from the pressure that comes with the playoffs. Succumbing to the pressure would become a common theme for the Bruins, as the series took a severe turn for the worse. 

Heading into Game 5, the Bruins were presented with the chance to neatly wrap up the series on home ice. Instead, the Bruins failed to finish off the stubborn Panthers team, allowing Florida to send the game to overtime. Just minutes into the overtime period, Ullmark mishandled the puck behind the net, gifting it to a Panther, who threw it in front of the net where Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk buried it. This moment turned the tide of the series in Florida’s direction. The expressions on the faces of Boston’s fans and players were ones of shock. They had just blown the chance to close out the series, and they all knew it. 

That was the turning point of the series.

The Bruins would lose Game 6, forcing a Game 7 in Boston. By this point, the pressure was seriously on. Much to this point has been regarding the Bruins’ failures, but credit must be given where it is due. The gritty and hardworking Florida team battled hard in Game 7 after squandering a 2-0 lead, tying up the game in the final minute to send the game to yet another overtime. And it would be in overtime that Florida’s Carter Verhaeghe would rip a shot past Swayman to crush all their hopes and dreams. 

Just like that, the dream was over. The Panthers deserved their spoils, and the Bruins deserved their failure. 

If we’re to talk about blame, there’s plenty to go around. Montgomery abandoned rotating Ullmark and Swayman in goal, playing a clearly injured Ullmark for the first six games, grinding him to dust. This led to them having to ask the impossible from Swayman, putting him in goal for Game 7 after he had been sitting on the bench for so long. Montgomery also kept changing the lines throughout the series, to the point where the team seemed awkward playing with each other. Bergeron was playing with a back injury and was not himself. The team’s uncharacteristic carelessness with the puck led to misplaced passes, causing turnovers that ended in goals. It was an overall failure on many levels.

But where does that leave the Bruins now? They blew their shot at the fairytale season, with the “last dance” of their veteran core of Bergeron, Kreijči, and Brad Marchand. The future of the former two players is unclear, and the latter may not have much left in the tank. Their draft capital and prospect pool has been depleted, and the salary cap poses considerable constraints on the Bruins roster, without factoring in how they must account for unsigned players. Do the Bruins have the will to regroup in the offseason and go again next season? 

It’s going to be tough, but lest we forget how everyone wrote off the record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning of the 2018-2019 season after being swept 4-0 in the first round by the wildcard Columbus Blue Jackets. That same Tampa Bay Lightning would then go on to three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals, winning two of them back to back. Or take the Presidents’ Trophy winners of last year, coincidentally the Panthers, who got swept last year, and turned into a dark horse team this year. 

For now, we can only speculate until next season. But as for the entirety of the Bruins organization, they will forever be left with the question of what could have been.