The Boston Bruins: A disappointing end to a stellar season

WSPNs Chloe Zilembo explains the Boston Bruins incredible regular season record and their ultimate demise in playoffs.

Credit: Katya Luzarraga

WSPN’s Chloe Zilembo explains the Boston Bruins’ incredible regular season record and their ultimate demise in playoffs.

Chloe Zilembo

The record setting 2022-23 Boston Bruins hockey team managed to pull off one of the biggest chokes in National Hockey League (NHL) history.

The Bruins had the best season that the NHL has ever seen, with a record of 65-12-5, and were the 2023 Stanley Cup favorites. During the regular season, they set a record of 14 home wins, the longest home win streak to start the season after shattering the previous record of 11 home wins. In addition, they had 135 points this season, the most points ever in an NHL season, defeating the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens who had 132 points.

Not only did the team have an incredible season, so did individual players. Star winger David Pastrňák was one of two players from the season who reached the 60 goal mark. Bruins defensemen Hampus Lindholm, Matt Gryzlyck and Brandon Carlo were the top three plus/minus leaders for the league. In addition, goalie Linus Ullmark had the lowest goals against average, the highest save percentage and the most wins for a goalie. These statistics put him on track to win the Vezina Trophy, an award of high honor for goalies.

The Bruins were not even supposed to be good this year, never mind record breaking.

At the beginning of the year, the Bruins had many star players out with injuries. Veteran winger Brad Marchand and star defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Gryzlyck were all out to start the season, leaving Bruins fans with questions of how the team would perform. Many wondered whether the Bruins would be able to keep pace with the rest of the league until the key players returned.

This season also welcomed in some new players, like Pavel Zacha and AJ Greer after Erik Haula and Curtis Lazar left the team. Veteran center David Krejčí also returned to the NHL after spending a season playing for Czechia’s professional league.

Another huge issue for the Bruins was the absence of a head coach after Bruce Cassidy was fired after multiple years with the team. In his place, the Bruins hired Jim Mongomery, the former assistant coach of the St. Louis Blues. Montgomery was inexperienced and untested with core veteran players who made a name for themselves in the league. Often, coaching changes can come with system changes that take players a lot of time to adjust to. Now, many believe that the hiring of Montgomery led to both the Bruins’ success and their eventual demise this season.

Montgomery excelled as the new head coach for the Bruins during the regular season with his positive coaching approach. The Bruins’ previous coaches had all been “old school” and punished players for playing poorly instead of rewarding them for playing well. Many younger players, like Trent Frederic and Jake DeBrusk, didn’t play too well under Cassidy but shined under Montgomery because of his positive reinforcement.

However, Montgomery failed to excel while coaching the Bruins for playoffs, and the pressure of being a new head coach eventually caused him to crack.

Montgomery managed to mess up the one thing that was always consistent for the team: the goaltending tandem. Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman were incredibly dominant all season long. Most of the time, Ullmark would play one game, then Swayman would dominate the net during the next game. Although unconventional, this arrangement worked very well for the Bruins. The pair went on to win the Jennings Trophy for the best goalie tandem. But, their signature “goalie hugs” after a win would soon come to a halt.

In the playoffs, Montgomery put Ullmark onto the ice in six of the seven games, which did not work out well. Ullmark was not used to playing as much as Montgomery expected him to, costing the team numerous goals he would have usually saved. Swayman only played game seven after a few poor performances from Ullmark and he did really well considering the team in front of him was collapsing.

Montgomery also shuffled the lines way too frequently. During the regular season, he was known to do this, but not to the extent of what he did in the playoffs. The team just became less and less cohesive with the unfamiliarity.

Despite the most dominant season the NHL Bruins had ever seen, the Bruins lost to the Florida Panthers in the first round, during overtime of game seven after blowing a 3-1 series lead.

However, maybe all is not lost and the future could be bright for the Bruins. After the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lighting had a record setting season, they got swept in the first round by the eighth seed Columbus Blue Jackets in one of the biggest upsets of the modern day NHL. In the next two seasons, the Lightning went on to win two consecutive Stanley Cups and avenged their upsetting first round loss in 2019. The Bruins have the potential to do the same thing, but the key question still stands. Can they do it?