Florida Panthers Upset Document-Setting Boston Bruins
These Boston Bruins have not been accustomed to losing streaks.
They tore through the N.H.L. during the regular season, winning 65 games, a single-season record; claiming the Presidents’ Trophy with a league-high of 135 points, 22 points clear of every other team; and outscoring their opponents by 128 goals.
But after all that winning, a three-game losing streak, just their second of the season, came at an inopportune time. The Florida Panthers defeated the Bruins, 4-3, in overtime of Game 7 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday night in Boston to complete a rare comeback from a 3-1 series deficit. And they did so against some of the most formidable opposition in the league’s 106-year history: The Bruins had 43 more points than the Panthers did in the regular season.
Boston had been so dominant that on Saturday night, after Toronto beat Tampa Bay to win a postseason series for the first time since 2004, some fans of the Maple Leafs gathered outside the team’s arena and chanted, “We want Florida.”
They got their wish.
Carter Verhaeghe, a member of Tampa Bay’s 2020 championship team, clinched the series with a left-handed shot from the right face-off dot through a screen by Matthew Tkachuk.
The Panthers built a 2-0 lead early in the second period, inciting a smattering of boos from an antsy Boston crowd. The Bruins scored three consecutive goals and looked poised to advance, but defenseman Brandon Montour forced overtime by scoring his second goal of the game with less than a minute left, and the goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was sent to the bench for an extra attacker.
By losing in the first round, the Bruins were dealt the same fate of the 2018-19 Lightning, who had shared the previous record for single-season wins with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings. That Tampa Bay team crashed out in a four-game sweep to Columbus, inspiring an apology to the fans on social media. Of the four teams to win at least 60 games in a season, only one, the star-laden 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens, went on to win the Stanley Cup.
This year’s Bruins, under their first-year coach, Jim Montgomery, also had talent throughout their roster. Five players had at least 20 goals, and five had at least 40 assists. David Pastrnak, the star winger who signed an eight-year contract extension last month, led both those categories with career highs of 61 goals and 52 assists.
In net, Linus Ullmark’s league-leading save percentage and goals-against average had positioned him as a favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. And when Ullmark was not in between the pipes, Jeremy Swayman was posting stellar numbers, too.
This year, Boston became the fastest team ever to reach 50 wins. By the end, though, fans at the TD Garden were trudging toward the exits after the Bruins became the 28th N.H.L. team to lose a playoff series after leading by 3-1.
Boston will now enter an off-season with important questions to answer. The team does not have much salary cap space, and its unrestricted free agents include two members of its most recent championship team — Patrice Bergeron, the 37-year-old captain and a top defensive forward; and David Krejci, who had a goal and two assists on Sunday. The team had rallied around those veterans to try to deliver them one more title.
The Bruins also do not have high-end draft picks available. They do not have a first- or second-round pick this year and, because of a past trade, they may not have a selection in the 2024 draft until the fourth round.
The Panthers had been soundly beaten in Game 4 and were one overtime goal away from their season being over in the next game. Instead, improbably, they’ll play on.