Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Jan 28, 2023; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Taylor Hall (71) skates with the puck during the first period against the Boston Bruins at FLA Live Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Mowry-USA TODAY Sports

Grab your gold towel and fire up “Cochise.”

Finally, the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs are here.

For the top-seed Bruins, things will get underway with a Marathon Monday night Game 1 against the ‘wild card two’ Panthers. It was the ‘worst case scenario’ from the Bruins if you want on the season series alone, as the Panthers were the only team other than the Senators to beat the Bruins multiple times during their historic, record-setting regular season.

But before the puck drops, here are seven thoughts on this series and how it could unfold for…

  • This should be a good series for the B’s offense

    Dec 19, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; The Boston Bruins celebrate after a goal during the third period against the Florida Panthers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 19, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; The Boston Bruins celebrate after a goal during the third period against the Florida Panthers at TD Garden. (Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports)

  • If there’s ever a series to jumpstart an offense, it’s a first-round date with the Panthers.

    Now, you could say that a Bruins offense that ranked second in goals for per game (3.67) doesn’t need much help on that front, but the Panthers are a team that’ll be happy to provide it all the same.

    Over the course of the regular season, the Panthers allowed the 11th-most shots per game (31.7). All 10 teams above them in this stat failed to qualify for the postseason, making Florida the worst defense in the field of 16 in terms of shot volume against. The Panthers also surrendered the seventh-most high-danger chances against per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, at 12.89 per 60 minutes. The only teams with matching/worse numbers: Arizona, Chicago, Buffalo, Montreal, Columbus, and Anaheim. Those are not teams you want to be bunched up with at any point in 2022-23 unless we’re talking about the Connor Bedard sweeps.

    The bad news for the Florida when it comes to those numbers: The Bruins averaged the ninth most shots per game during the regular season, the 10th most high-danger chances per 60, and averaged 1.62 goals for per 60 minutes of five-on-five play during the regular season (fourth-best rate in the NHL). During their four-game season series with Florida, the Bruins averaged over 17 high-danger chances per 60 minutes, and were one of four teams to hammer the Panthers at such a rate.

    Boston also scored 17 goals over the course of their four-game season series with the Panthers, making them the fifth-most victimized Eastern Conference team the Bruins went against this season (only Montreal, the Isles, Sabres, and Flyers fared worse in their own end going against the Bruins in their own zone).

    The Panthers are also projected to roll with third-string goaltender Alex Lyon to begin this series.

    The 29-year-old Lyon, a veteran of over 200 AHL games, posted a 37-of-40 line in the Panthers’ overtime win over the Bruins back on Jan. 28, and comes into this series with nine wins and a .912 save percentage in 15 decisions this season. Lyon had a strong finish to his season — the ex-Yale standout went 4-1-1 with a .946 save percentage in his final six starts of the season — but whether or not that lasts in a best-of-seven with the same team remains to be seen.

    If Lyon falters, the Panthers will turn to Sergei Bobrovsky, whose .901 save percentage was the 10th-worst among the group of 26 goaltenders with at least 40 NHL games played this season.

  • It’s still not time for a goalie rotation for the Bruins. Not yet, anyway.

    Oct 12, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) celebrates with Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) after their game against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 12, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) celebrates with Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) after their game against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Hey, speaking of goalies, the Bruins have two good … dare I even say great … goalies.

    Out of the gate, the Bruins are expected to be led by Linus Ullmark. The NHL’s ‘Triple Crown’ winner as the league leader in wins, save percentage, and goals against average — and the first to accomplish that feat since Carey Price in 2015 — Ullmark’s late-season injury scare was truly nothing to worry about. In fact, the only thing the Vezina favorite seemed concerned about ahead of Monday’s Game 1 was how he was going to get to TD Garden amid the chaos known as Marathon Monday in the city. In other words, expect him in net for Game 1.

    Behind Ullmark, the Bruins have a tremendous 1B in Jeremy Swayman. And Swayman finished about as strong as you could have hoped. One of 39 goalies to appear in at least 20 games over the last four calendar months, Swayman posted a 19-3-3 record over that span, while his save percentage (.929) and goals against average (2.09) both ranked third among that group of 39. His .866 high-danger save percentage second to only Ilya Samsonov over that span.

    That, along with the Bruins’ every-other-game approach down the stretch, is enough to get people thinking that the Bruins should stick with their rotation in net for the playoffs.

    Count me out on that.

    Now, I think there’s a place for it — if the Bruins are up by multiple games in a series — but going back and forth could put someone in a straight-up bad spot. Let’s say the Bruins are up 3-1 in a series and going for the knockout blow on home ice. They go to the other guy in Game 5, they lose that Game 5, and then it’s off to the opponent’s building for a Game 6. Lose that game and it’s now a Game 7 and anything can happen. Kevin Millar will tell you this. Momentum is a real finicky thing this time of year, and you never want to help give an opponent some more juice.

    This crease belongs to Linus until proven otherwise. The 6-foot-5 Ullmark was also real strong against the Panthers in 2022-23, too, with two wins and a .925 save percentage in two head-to-heads. Swayman, meanwhile, went 0-1-1 with an .881 save percentage by way of eight goals allowed on 67 shots faced.

  • Can the Bruins slow down Matthew Tkachuk?

    Nov 23, 2022; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Florida Panthers left wing Matthew Tkachuk (19) celebrates a goal by center Aleksander Barkov (not pictured) during the second period against the Boston Bruins at FLA Live Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 23, 2022; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Florida Panthers left wing Matthew Tkachuk (19) celebrates a goal by center Aleksander Barkov (not pictured) during the second period against the Boston Bruins at FLA Live Arena. (Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports)

  • The name to watch for the Panthers: Matthew Tkachuk.

    One of the most dynamic wingers in the league, Tkachuk by all means dragged the Panthers kicking and screaming to the postseason with his second-half surge. From January on, Tkachuk recorded 23 goals and 66 points in 45 games. His 23 goals ranked 15th among NHLers, while his 66 points trailed only Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, and Connor McDavid for the most in the league. Tkachuk also averaged the sixth-most shots per 60 (11.21) and generated the 11th-most individual high-danger scoring chances (5.75) per 60 among 89 forwards with at least 600 minutes of five-on-five play since Jan. 1.

    “Well, he’s their Brad Marchand, right?” Montgomery said of the challenge against Tkachuk. “He’s their emotional leader, he’s a tremendous competitor with high, high hockey IQ. He’s not someone you’re going to deter. You just got to defend him well and make sure you’re aware of him when he’s on the ice.”

    Tkachuk is a drag-you-into-the-fight kind of talent, and had strong numbers against the Bruins this season, with one goal and five points in four head-to-heads with the Bruins. Tkachuk was one of just five players to record at least five points against the Bruins this season, with teammate Aleksander Barkov also among that group of five.

    “Those are two players we have to be aware of when they’re on the ice and we can’t give them second-chance opportunities because they’ll make you pay,” said Montgomery.

    Tkachuk, especially, as the 25-year-old comes into this series with 15 points in 12 career games against the B’s. That makes Tkachuk the 16th-highest scoring player against the Bruins since 2017, which is considerably impressive when you consider that Tkachuk spent the first five years of his career with the Flames before joining Florida last summer.

  • Bottom-six depth could decide this one

    Jan 28, 2023; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Boston Bruins center Charlie Coyle (13) during the first period against the Boston Bruins at FLA Live Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Mowry-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 28, 2023; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Boston Bruins center Charlie Coyle (13) during the first period against the Boston Bruins at FLA Live Arena. (Jason Mowry/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Everybody knows about the star power that comes with this season. On Boston’s side, there’s your Patrice Bergerons, your David Pastrnaks, and Charlie McAvoys. The Panthers counter with Barkov, Tkachuk, and even Brandon Montour, who this season had the highest-scoring season by any defenseman in the Panthers’ history. But seven-game series are often won on the back of your scoring depth, and that’s where this one could be won.

    For Boston, all eyes turn to names like Taylor Hall and Tyler Bertuzzi. (I mean, how many NHL third lines are going to boast a former Hart Trophy winner and a former 30-goal scorer?) Bertuzzi’s contributions have been more than noticeable, too, as the ex-Wings standout put up four goals and 16 points in 21 post-deadline games with Boston, and has looked more comfortable with each passing game. He’s been as advertised, and maybe even a little bit better, in fact.

    “I mean, the greasy goals that everybody sort of describes is part of Tyler’s DNA, [but] his playmaking ability and vision in the offensive zone, I think has really bubbled up with our hockey club,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said of Bertuzzi. “He’s gone in and complemented Pastrnak finding open ice and his shot, puck recoveries, has grasped the defensive zone pretty well as well, which is always different and what we we sort of worry [about] when you come and try and get players implemented as quickly as possible and playing. I think he’s done a nice job in all those areas of the ice.

    “But I think overall, his playmaking ability and his vision of the ice was probably a little understated, certainly not by our our pro staff and trying to figure out where he would fit. And we felt that he could be moved around in a bunch of different roles.”

    This will be Bertuzzi’s first NHL playoff run, and while that can always be daunting, the Sudbury, Ont. native’s last run in postseason play was certainly notable, as he was the MVP of the 2017 AHL Playoffs with nine goals and 19 points in 19 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins.

    The Panthers see the Bruins’ Bertuzzi, however, and counter with third-line winger Anthony Duclair.

    Limited to just 20 games this season after undergoing Achilles tendon surgery over the season, Duclair posted two goals and nine points during the regular season, but scored a career-high 31 goals and 58 points for the Panthers a year ago.

    “[Duclair] adds scoring depth. You know, he’s on the third line right now, so you got a guy that scored as many goals as he has in the last three years on your third line, it’s like us,” Montgomery said. “We have Taylor Hall and Charlie Coyle, and [Trent] Frederic had 17 goals this year on our third line. It’s hard to match up and that gives them more depth in their lineup.”

  • Will Boston’s power play come to play? 

    May 6, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) celebrates his power play goal with Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce (22) behind him during the second period in game three of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    May 6, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) celebrates his power play goal with Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce (22) behind him during the second period in game three of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

  • The Bruins feel good about their power play entering this first-round series. (Imagine saying that a month ago.) With conversions on seven of their final 21 power-play opportunities of the season, the Bruins essentially self-corrected their power play with improved puck movement, and had stronger breakouts and zone entries throughout.

    Though coached by Bruce Cassidy this time last year, the Bruins experienced something similar heading into last year’s playoffs, as they ended a massive drought in the regular season, finished strong, and then took flight in the playoffs with a 6-for-29 (20.7 percent) effort against the Hurricanes in their first-round showdown.

    And let me tell ‘ya, this Panther penalty kill isn’t anything like that Carolina one the Bruins torched.

    Florida comes into this series following a regular season that saw them finish with the 10th-worst penalty-killing percentage in hockey (76 percent). Their penalty kill rebounded towards the end of the season (they killed penalties at an 81 percent clip from March on), but this is a weakness the Bruins should exploit early and often.

  • Let’s see how Bruins stack it up on backend

    Mar 4, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk (74) defenseman Dmitry Orlov (81) left wing Brad Marchand (63) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) celebrate a goal by center Patrice Bergeron (37) during the third period against the New York Rangers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 4, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk (74) defenseman Dmitry Orlov (81) left wing Brad Marchand (63) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) celebrate a goal by center Patrice Bergeron (37) during the third period against the New York Rangers at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

  • With Orlov and McAvoy, the Bruins are going for what feels like a super-pairing team-up.

    Together for just under 140 minutes of five-on-five play this season, the Orlov-McAvoy pairing held an on-ice shot attempt advantage of 181-112, on-ice shot edge of 95-63, and a scoring chance edge of 114-59. The Bruins also scored eight goals with that duo on the ice together at five-on-five. It’s a damn strong pairing for the Bruins to roll out there in almost any situation.

    But it’ll be interesting to see if and when the Bruins split them up because it’s clear that Orlov can do it with anybody. In 240 five-on-five minutes with Orlov on the ice without McAvoy to his right, the Bruins have held a 130-117 edge in shots, a plus-10 high-danger scoring chance differential, and have outscored opponents 10-2.

    It may seem a bit below his play range as a top-four defenseman, but I simply love the idea of the Bruins rolling out a defensive lineup that features McAvoy, Orlov, and Hampus Lindholm all on separate pairings. That just seems like an absolute nightmare scenario for the opposition, and you know there will be enough on-the-fly movement and rotating so that all three guys end up with about 20 minutes or more at the very least.

    The Bruins’ ability to do that, however, is limited when Forbort is in the lineup, as he’s not exactly an ideal fit with McAvoy or even Brandon Carlo. But the Bruins have repeatedly leaned on Forbort for the taxing defensive-zone and penalty-killing minutes — and often times as a way to limit the hard-minute (injury) exposure to these other guys mentioned — and this may very well be a case of the Bruins prioritizing that over a three-pairing stack that would melt the minds of opposing offenses.

  • Deja vu, anyone?

    Oct 12, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Washington Capitals in the first period at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 12, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Washington Capitals in the first period at Capital One Arena. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

  • I don’t know about you, but this series reminds me a lot of that 2021 first-round date with Washington. You looked at the roster and it was easy to feel like the Bruins were in for a tough, tough showdown given the firepower on the Capitals’ side. But you had legitimate questions about their defense and what was in net. In that series, the firepower proved unable to make up for the doubts at the other end, and I think we’re trending towards something similar here. While the Panthers can hang a four or five spot on you, I have my doubts that they’re going to limit an all-around deeper Boston attack over the course of a seven-game series. The Bruins are also just more well-equipped to handle an injury or someone going cold, while it feels like the Panthers need everybody to stay upright and get top-level production to win this series.

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