BOSTON – It was difficult for the Boston Bruins to wrap their brain around the Game 7 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers after it was over.
On paper pretty much everyone had the Bruins rolling in four or five games after setting NHL records with 65 wins and 135 points during the regular season, but after it was over some of the reasons behind the upset came clear. Obviously, the Florida Panthers were better than your typical eighth seed with Matthew Tkachuk dominating, and Sam Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe proving way too much to handle during a seven game playoff series.
And Brandon Montour was the best defensemen in the series despite more heralded players like Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm and Aaron Ekblad also playing in this series. After it was over, we learned that Patrice Bergeron was extremely hurt playing through a herniated disc in his back and it looked like key players like Linus Ullmark and David Krejci were playing through injuries as well.
And there will be instant second guesses of Montgomery and his staff whether it was going to Jeremy Swayman too late in the series, or the constant mixing up of forward lines rather than sticking with what worked wonders during an epic regular season. That doesn’t even get into the second-guessing about who exactly decided to play 37-year-old Bergeron in a meaningless Game No. 82 of the regular season in Montreal that left Bergeron with an injured back, and turned him into a shell of himself (minus-6 and one point) once he get into the series in Game 5 with the B’s holding a 3-to-1 lead in the series at that point.
It also looked like Boston’s entire group wasn’t ready for the intensity and speed of the forecheck attack that the Panthers threw at them, and consistently lost the board battles and net-front skirmishes that define a playoff series. After it was over, Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery admitted that the Boston Bruins weren’t ready for playoff intensity to start Game 1 after coasting to the President’s Trophy. He mentioned “disappointment” and “confusion” as the two words that came to mind in the immediate aftermath of the loss.
“I do think our first two [playoff] games we played, we weren’t ready for the intensity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs,” said Montgomery. “I think that goes with the regular season but, Games 5, 6 and 7, we had dug in and that’s where it’s a little stupefying.
Our wall play wasn’t good enough — give them credit, they were also aggressive and caused a lot of extra opportunities in the offensive zone…I thought Florida was the better team tonight, just being honest, they were the better team. You know, our [third] period was good, the first and [second] they were better than us and overtime they were better.”
The way it played out will be painful for a long time for the Boston Bruins. They had their best players on the ice and they had a one-goal lead in the final minute of the third period, but they couldn’t hold back Brandon Montour scoring with the Florida goalie pulled. That led to an overtime where the B’s really didn’t seem to have it and the Carter Verhaeghe overtime winner was only a matter of time, and the realization that the Panthers were simply better, younger, faster, more aggressive and more well-rounded over the course of a seven game playoff series.
“This is a tough one. We obviously expected much different results this year and this series, and unfortunately that didn’t happen. This one is going to hurt for a long time,” said Brad Marchand, who had a tough night with zero points and a minus-2 rating. “It’s pretty disheartening with the period that we had, to get a bounce like that. It’s tough. We were a minute away from closing that out, and it’s a tough way to lose.”
Now the questions go to the Boston Bruins’ offseason, the future of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and just now many injuries the B’s had, but it all comes because the Black and Gold fell well, well short of expectations and team goals this season with a group that seemingly had the talent to get it done.