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Murphy: Sweeney, Bruins Need To Fight Off Panthers Again

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Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins need to buckle up for what’s going to be a bumpier stretch run than it looked like less than a month ago.

On Jan. 27, the Boston Bruins spoiled Mark Recchi and Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame Day with a 6-2 drubbing of the Flyers, who are the surprise playoff contender of the 2023-24 season. The Bruins then entered their bye week at 31-9-9 for 71 points with a solid lead on the Florida Panthers (64 points) in the Atlantic Division and a comfortable 10-point lead over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference. Well, cue Déjà vu because the Panthers have once again mounted a comeback on the Bruins, as have the Rangers.

Since returning from their break into a seven-game homestand, the Bruins are 1-2-1, with both regulation losses being self-admitted no-shows. Meanwhile, after a dominating 5-2 win for the Florida Panthers over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night, the defending Eastern Conference champions are just two points back on the Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Conference and first overall in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers are coming, too, as they’re riding a five-game win streak and are three points back on the Bruins.

Ironically, sandwiched between the 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Feb. 6 and the 3-0 loss to the Washington Capitals loss on Feb. 10 for the Bruins was a 4-0 win over the league-leading Vancouver Canucks. The Bruins had a much better effort in their 3-2 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.

“They scored that second goal, we still felt like we were going to be able to come back in this game, and we did,” Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said after the game. “Sometimes you lose games in this League, and you feel like you deserve better, and that’s going to happen. I was proud of our effort. Our power play needs to come through for us there. Can’t go 0-for-6. That’s an area that we have to look at right now.”

Still, even with a better effort in Brad Marchand’s 1000th NHL game, two assists from the captain and the emotion from the milestone game were not enough for the Bruins to get the two points. Those extra points mean way more now than they did before the break because, once again, the Panthers are about to overtake the Bruins. Factor in Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin finding his game after former UMass goalie and two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick held the fort down, and Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is about to be in an arms race with Rangers GM Chris Drury, but probably more so, Panthers GM Bill Zito.

Calgary Flames Assistant General Manager and Senior VP of Hockey Operations Dave Nonis and Blue Jackets assistant GM Basil McRae were two of eleven scouts sitting in ‘Scout’s Row’ at TD Garden on Tuesday night. The Flames also had their Northeast pro scout watching from above as well. The other eight teams represented at TD Garden were the Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, and the San Jose Sharks.

It’s no secret that Sweeney pursued new Canucks center Elias Lindholm on the NHL trade market before Canucks GM Patrik Allvin pried away the potential 2024 unrestricted free agent from Flames GM Craig Conroy. Sweeney is still believed to be in pursuit of Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin, but the market for Hanifin is getting bigger as fellow general managers prepare for the Norwood, MA, native to hit the NHL trade market for good. Drury likely won’t be one of those GMs pursuing Hanifin, but don’t count Zito out of trying to land a game-changing defenseman like Hanifin. He may have to heal some bad wounds for stealing Matthew Tkachuk, but that was under Brad Treliving’s watch.

Multiple NHL sources have indicated to Boston Hockey Now that Zito could go big-game hunting ahead of the March 8 NHL Trade Deadline. The Panthers have four defensemen potentially coming off the books this offseason, with three of the four being left-shot defensemen like Hanifin. Where would that leave the Bruins for not just now but potentially the foreseeable future if Zito lured in a defenseman many believe has been Sweeney’s white whale?

The Panthers are out to prove that their upset of the record-breaking 2022-23 Boston Bruins and subsequent run to Game 5 of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final was no fluke. They don’t play the Bruins again until March 26, but they are close to surpassing them in the standings and could make a big addition to their roster before then. Starting tonight with the Seattle Kraken, the Bruins players need to do their best to run the table in the final three games of their homestand to fight the Panthers off their backs for now. Can Sweeney fight them off before the NHL Trade Deadline?

 

 

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