Now the real season begins.
The Boston Bruins have wrapped up a historic 2022-23 NHL regular season that saw them set league records for the most wins and the most points. The B's finished as the Presidents' Trophy winners with an astounding 65-12-5 record.
The quest for the Stanley Cup begins Monday night at TD Garden, and the first opponent on the Bruins' path is the Florida Panthers.
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The Panthers regressed a bit in 2022-23 after leading the league standings last season and getting eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. However, the Panthers enter the playoffs red hot. They finished 12-5-2 after the March 3 trade deadline and their 75 goals scored were the seventh-most during that span. Florida also was one of only two teams that beat Boston twice during the regular season. The Ottawa Senators were the other.
This will be just the second playoff series between these teams. The first was the 1996 first round when the Panthers eliminated the Bruins in five games before eventually losing to the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final.
Here's a full playoff preview for Bruins vs. Panthers. (All stats via Natural Stat Trick)
Here's the complete schedule for Bruins vs. Panthers (all times ET):
Game 1 at Boston: Monday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Game 2 at Boston: Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Game 3 at Florida: Friday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m. on TNT
Game 4 at Florida: Sunday, April 23 at 3:30 p.m. on TNT
Game 5* at Boston: Wednesday, April 26 (time and channel TBD)
Game 6* at Florida: Friday, April 28 (time and channel TBD)
Game 7* at Boston: Sunday, April 30 (time and channel TBD)
Regular Season Head-to-Head
The Bruins and Panthers played four times in the regular season, with each team winning twice in its own building.
- Oct. 17 in Boston: Bruins 5, Panthers 3
- Nov. 23 in Florida: Panthers 5, Bruins 2
- Dec. 19 in Boston: Bruins 7, Panthers 3
- Jan. 28 in Florida: Panthers 4, Bruins 3 (OT)
Here are some key stats from their season series:
The Bruins win the series if ...
They continue to be the best defensive team in hockey.
The Panthers ranked fifth in goals scored per game. They had one 109-point scorer, two 40-plus goal scorers, 11 players with double-digit goals and a 73-point defenseman. That's a lot of offensive firepower. But if there's a team well-equipped to defend against all of that speed and skill, it's the Bruins.
The Bruins defend really well as a team and have an elite shutdown line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk. The Taylor Hall, Charlie Coyle and Tyler Bertuzzi trio has the potential to be a very effective playoff checking line as well. Boston also has arguably the best blue line in the league with two elite No. 1 defensemen in Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm, plus another first-pairing caliber player in Dmitry Orlov.
Throw the league's best goaltending into that mix and you have a defensive juggernaut that won't be fazed by the Panthers' high-end skill.
The Panthers win the series if ...
They make a dramatic improvement defensively.
The Panthers can score, but the Bruins are powerful offensively, too. Boston ranked No. 2 in goals scored per game (3.65), No. 11 on the power play (22.7 percent), No. 9 in shots per game (33.1) and No. 9 in scoring chances (2,676) during the regular season. The Bruins also had a 61-goal scorer, five 20-goal scorers and two defensemen who tallied 50-plus points.
Do the Panthers have the ability to defend at a high level, and if they don't, is the goaltending capable of bailing them out? The answer to both questions is likely no. Florida ranked 21st in goals allowed per game (3.28), 25th on the penalty kill (75.6 percent) and 22nd in shots against per game (31.7). The Panthers have a few defensemen with fantastic offensive skill. What they lack on the blue line is shutdown defensemen who are going to defend against top-six forwards at a high level at even strength and the penalty kill.
The Panthers could score a bunch of goals in this series, but it won't matter unless their defense and goaltending shows legit improvement.
Players to Watch
David Pastrnak, RW, Bruins
No surprise here, right?
Not only did Pastrnak score 61 goals -- tied for the fourth-most in Bruins history for a single season -- he found the back of the net in each of Boston's four matchups versus the Panthers. Florida had no answer for the superstar forward during the regular season, and that needs to change if the Panthers are going to pull off a historic upset.
It's also worth noting that Pastrnak has been very productive in the first round throughout his career with 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists) in 34 games.
- 2017 vs. Senators: Two goals, two assists in six games
- 2018 vs. Leafs: Five goals, eight assists in seven games
- 2019 vs. Leafs: Two goals, four assists in seven games
- 2020 vs. Hurricanes: One goal, three assists in two games
- 2021 vs. Capitals: Two goals, four assists in five games
- 2022 vs. Hurricanes: Three goals, three assists in seven games
Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Panthers
The Panthers gave up a lot to acquire Tkachuk via trade last offseason, and he rewarded them with a team-leading 109 points (40 goals, 69 assists) in 78 games. The Panthers were plus-315 in scoring chances during Tkachuk's 5-on-5 ice time this season.
The 25-year-old star scored one goal with four assists in four games against the Bruins in the regular season. He has posted 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 14 career games versus the B's.
Tkachuk isn't just a goal scorer. He's an exceptional playmaker as well, evidenced by his 69 assists, which ranked fifth in the league. He's also a tough, physical player who annoys the heck out of opponents and draws penalties. Tkachuk is the most likely candidate to be a villain for Bruins fans in this series. He loves to mix it up.
Hampus Lindholm, D, Bruins
Lindholm is going to be a hugely important player at both ends of the ice. The veteran defenseman had a great season offensively with a career-high 53 points (10 goals, 43 assists) in 79 games.
From a defensive standpoint, we could see Lindholm match up against Tkachuk quite a bit. Lindholm played 28:42 of 5-on-5 ice time versus Tkachuk in the regular season -- the most he played against any Panthers forward. Florida had a 33-29 edge in shot attempts, a 22-19 advantage in shots on net and a 19-17 lead in scoring chances during those Lindholm vs. Tkachuk minutes. Boston outscored Florida 2-1 over that span.
Overall, Lindholm did a pretty good job helping hold the Panthers to only one goal in Tkahcuk's almost 30 minutes against him. If Lindholm can match, or improve those numbers in Round 1, it's hard to imagine the Bruins losing this series.
Aleksander Barkov, C, Panthers
Barkov is a legit No. 1 center with an elite two-way skill set. He tallied 77 points (22 goals, 55 assists) in 65 games and played fantastic defense against quality competition. Not only will Barkov be tasked with driving offense at a high rate, he'll need to play a pivotal role in shutting down the Bruins' top-six forwards at even strength and the penalty kill. A monster series from Barkov would significantly improve the Panthers' chances of winning when you consider he plays in all situations.
"He’s so good," Coyle told reporters, including the Boston Globe's Matt Porter, after the Bruins' win over the Canadiens on Thursday night. "He’s a big guy. He can score. He’s a great playmaker. He does it all. Good on faceoffs. He’s just a well-rounded, two-way player. You’ve got to watch out for a guy like that."
Linus Ullmark, Bruins
Ullmark left Tuesday's win over the Washington Capitals in the third period with what Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery called "muscle tightening." Montgomery said Ullmark coming out of the game was precautionary. Assuming Ullmark is healthy, it would be shocking if he wasn't the Game 1 starter. He's absolutely earned it after putting together one of the most impressive seasons by a goaltender in recent memory.
Ullmark became just the seventh player ever to win the goaltending triple crown by leading the league in wins, save percentage and GAA. Here's where he ranked in notable goalie stats from the regular season.
Ullmark went 2-0-0 with a .925 save percentage versus Florida in the regular season. Backup netminder Jeremy Swayman started the other two games and allowed eight goals with an .888 save percentage.
Goaltending is the area where the Bruins have the biggest advantage over the Panthers. Ullmark is far more trustworthy between the pipes than Sergei Bobrovsky or Alex Lyon.
Sergei Bobrovsky and Alex Lyon, Panthers
The Panthers have a goalie controversy. Bobrovsky is their No. 1, but an illness forced him to miss the team's final eight games. The backup, Alex Lyon, helped lead the Panthers to the playoffs with a 6-1-1 record, a .944 save percentage and a 1.75 GAA in those last eight matchups.
So, do the Panthers go back to the experienced Bobrovsky or ride the hot hand in Lyon?
Bobrovsky has 51 games of playoff experience and famously helped the Blue Jackets upset the Presidents' Trophy-winning Lightning in the first round in 2019. But since then, his playoff stats are mediocre at best. Overall, he has a .901 save percentage and a 3.13 GAA in his postseason career. He gave up 17 goals in six games when the Bruins defeated his Blue Jackets in the second round in 2019. Bobrovsky posted a .901 save percentage and a 3.07 GAA in 50 appearances this season, including a loss to the Bruins on Oct. 17 in which he allowed four goals on 33 shots.
Lyon made 38 saves on 40 shots in a 4-3 overtime Panthers win against the Bruins in Florida on Jan. 28. But Lyon has zero playoff experience, so it's unknown how he'll react to that kind of pressure and a raucous atmosphere at TD Garden.
Here are the betting lines for Bruins vs. Panthers, via DraftKings Sportsbook.
- Bruins to win the series: -320
- Panthers to win the series: +250
Bruins in five games.
A significant goaltending advantage, a superior penalty kill, more playoff experience, a much better blue line and home ice advantage all explain why the Bruins are heavy favorites in this series. They also just completed the greatest regular season in league history.
Anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it's pretty hard to make a case for the Panthers winning this series outside of a complete goaltending meltdown by Ullmark/Swayman or a significant injury to an important Bruins player(s).
The Bruins will make this series a quick one and get some much-needed rest while the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning slug it out in the other series on the Atlantic Division side of the bracket.