Well…what a terrible way to go out.
I don’t think it needs repeating because we all know what happened, but ouch.
For me, a Bruins playoff defeat starts with sadness, frustration and a respite from social media and sports radio for the time it takes to get over the pain. This one is a little different, as it comes with a mix of anger and embarrassment too.
It would be burying the lede if this post was strictly a “player of the series” post. Since I’m not an idiot (at least, I hope not), I’m going with three up and three down.
I’m going to highlight three negative performances and three positive ones, all by players or groups of players.
(Yes, Jim Montgomery has a lot of questions to answer but this post is about the players on the ice).
Since we’re all feeling pessimistic today, I’ll start with the negative.
Down: Hampus Lindholm
The easy Boston sports comparison to make is between this 2022-23 Boston Bruins team and the 2007 New England Patriots, but when it comes to Hampus Lindholm, I feel like the 2017 Patriots’ Super Bowl loss would be more appropriate.
In a game that was an offensive shootout, like much of this series, the eventual result could’ve rested on a single positive defensive play by just one player. Famously, Bill Belichick benched Malcolm Butler, one of the Patriots’ best defensive players, and the Philadelphia Eagles took advantage. If Butler had played more than just a special teams snap, and been on the field for a single fourth-down defensive snap, he might have made the difference.
Anyways, back to hockey - what does that have to do with Hampus Lindholm? If he had made just a single positive play in any of the games in this series, the Bruins might not have had to play in a Game 7. The difference between Butler and Lindholm was that Lindholm played, Butler wasn’t on the field.
At 151:37, he spent the third-most time on ice of anyone on the Bruins. At best, he was invisible; at worst, he was a liability.
Although Jake DeBrusk did score a short-handed goal after Lindholm’s delay of game penalty in the third period of Game 6, Matthew Tkachuk quickly erased that lead before the power play expired.
His Game 7, second-period giveaway allowed Sam Reinhart to put the Bruins in a 2-0 hole after he beat Jeremy Swayman (who Lindholm was screening).
Coming into the series, the defensive matchup looked good for Boston. While the Florida Panthers were certainly a deeper team than the other wild card team, the New York Islanders, especially on offense, their defense was supposed to be their weakness.
Instead, Lindholm, who deserved much praise for his regular-season performance, disappeared. He wasn’t the only one. Charlie McAvoy struggled in Games 5-7 and Dmitry Orlov had all sorts of issues in his defensive zone, but Lindholm was by far the worst.
Lindholm’s final stat line read no points, four giveaways, and two penalties taken.
Down: Linus Ullmark
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Linus Ullmark was (reportedly) injured.
@NHLBruins . Like all teams ; players grit it out to play through major injuries in the Playoffs. My sources tell me soon to be Vezina G Ullmark was playing through a debilitating & painful injury that limited his mobility and technique. @espn @NHL @NHLNetwork #HockeyTwitter— Kevin Weekes (@KevinWeekes) May 1, 2023
The decision to start him six times with a rumored injury before going to Swayman in Game 7 rests solely on Jim Montgomery, and we just went over the Bruins’ defensive struggles, which definitely exposed their goaltending.
Even with Ullmark’s injury, his Game 5, game-losing overtime gaff shifted the momentum in the series. The Bruins outplayed the Panthers in Game 5 only to lose when their soon-to-be Vezina-winning goalie got the secondary assist on the Panthers’ overtime winner.
Swayman bears less of the brunt of this series loss than Ullmark and Montgomery. Swayman and Ullmark traded the net regularly all season, so to suddenly play just 3:11 in 17 days and be expected to save your team from an epic Game 7 collapse is a tall order.
The Bruins relied on dominant goaltending all season long; to have that collapse in the playoffs was a killer.
Down: Penalty Kill
When you look at the stats for this series versus the Panthers, one startling problem was the penalty kill.
During the regular season, the Bruins possessed the league’s best penalty kill, successfully killing penalties 87.3% of the time, according to NHL.com. That number dropped to just 75% during the playoffs, ranking the Bruins 10th among playoff teams.
The Bruins were short-handed just 2.86 times per game in the playoffs; that ranks fourth among playoff teams. By comparison, the Bruins were short-handed 3.45 times per game on average during the regular season. The penalty kill was so bad that allowing under three penalties per game still crippled them.
One of the bigger contributors to that fact was the number of minor penalties committed by key penalty-killing defensemen. The Bruins’ top-five penalty-killing defensemen during the regular season, Brandon Carlo, Lindholm, Derek Forbort, Orlov and McAvoy, combined for 12 penalties, 44% of the penalties the Bruins took in the series. If your key penalty killers are off the ice, it’s going to be a problem and it was.
Up: Taylor Hall
Taylor Hall was the Bruins’ best player for the second consecutive playoff series going back to last year. Coming into these playoffs, there was a question of whether Hall had recovered fully from an injury that saw him return to the lineup in the last three games of the regular season. He was pretty quiet in those final games of the regular season.
That changed in the playoffs. Hall was the team’s co-leader in goals with five, tying him with Tyler Bertuzzi and David Pastrnak. He added three assists for eight points, which tied him for second on the team in points with Orlov. Of Hall’s five goals, his two most meaningful were to open the scoring in the Bruins’ Game 3 victory and his game-tying goal in the third period of Game 5. He also assisted on the Bruins’ first insurance goal in Game 4 before putting the game away with the next two goals for a 6-2 win.
Hall did not look injured, or like he was a defensive liability. He combined his goal-scoring talents with the type of steady play in his zone that made the third line so effective during the season. He might have been the only Bruin who didn’t look weighed down by the massive expectations they’d created for themselves.
Up: David Pastrnak
Listing Pastrnak here is probably a controversial take because his play through the series was inconsistent, but when the Bruins needed him, he came through in the clutch.
He scored the opening goal of the series in Game 1, the eventual Game 3 winner, a game-tying goal and a go-ahead goal in Game 6, and what should have been the series winner in Game 7.
Yes, he suffered from his normal giveaway issues during the playoffs, to the tune of eight over seven games. But the criticisms against him were due to his lack of offense. If you look back at the goals scored against the Bruins in the series, Pastrnak might have only been directly responsible for one, maybe two. His defensive issues are tough to take when he isn’t scoring for long periods of time, but he was, and at crucial moments. His five goals should have been enough.
Up: The Power Play
It was a major discussion point coming into the playoffs. Would the Bruins be able to go on a deep run if their power play struggled as it did for the second half of the regular season? Frustratingly enough, the power play was good, but it didn’t help.
The Bruins scored on 40.7% of their chances and had 27 power play opportunities, (the most of any playoff team in the first round). They had the third-ranked power play in the first round of the playoffs.
It looked like a key piece to a Bruins series victory. The Panthers’ penalty kill finished the regular season ranked 23rd in the NHL, and the Bruins dissected it. If someone had told you before the start of this series, that the Bruins would score at a 40.7% clip against the Panthers and have the most power play opportunities in the first round, the assumption would’ve been that the Bruins would have won the series easily.
Alas, it’s fitting that a statistically improbable, almost impossible regular season performance would be ended by another one in the playoffs. I know that doesn’t make anyone feel better.
The only thing that might help a little is remembering the past. After the Bruins choked out of the 2010 playoffs by surrendering a 3-0 lead against the Philadelphia Flyers, they returned to win the Cup a year later.
The two teams against which the Bruins were competing for their historic regular-season record, the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning and the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings failed to win the Stanley Cup but won the next season.
It’s not a lot, and this team is much older than both of those teams, but it’s something...right?