- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
BOSTON — The Boston Bruins, who set new NHL records for regular-season success, have been eliminated in the Stanley Cup Playoffs’ opening round after 4-3 Game 7 overtime win by the Florida Panthers on Sunday night.
Winger Carter Verhaeghe’s goal 8:35 into overtime sent the Panthers into a wild celebration and left Bruins fans in stunned silence.
Florida’s Sam Bennett fought hard on the forecheck to move the puck to Verhaeghe. With Matthew Tkachuk screening goalie Jeremy Swayman, Verhaeghe found room to score his second of the series.
Florida advances to face the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round. The Leafs eliminated the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games, winning their first playoff series since 2004.
The Panthers completed a rally from being down 3-1 in the series, winning three straight games to eliminate Boston. They rallied to force overtime on a goal by defenseman Brandon Montour with a minute left in regulation.
The 2022-23 Bruins were the most successful regular-season team in NHL history, setting new league records for wins (65) and points (135) in a single season. But with that success came the unique pressure of going wire-to-wire as the NHL’s best. As winger Brad Marchand told ESPN in March: “It’s not about the regular season. If you win the Presidents’ Trophy but you don’t win the Cup, nobody cares. That’s what we know on this team.”
To that end, Boston also had to battle the NHL’s “Presidents’ Trophy curse,” as the best regular-season team historically underwhelms in the postseason. Since the 1985-86 season when the trophy was first awarded, 11 regular-season champs made the Stanley Cup Final with eight of them winning. No Presidents’ Trophy winner has advanced to the Stanley Cup Final since the NHL went to the wild card format in 2013-14.
The Bruins join the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning as recent regular-season standings leaders who were eliminated in the playoffs’ opening round – a team whose regular-season wins mark the Boston surpassed this season.
After the handshake line between the teams, the Bruins stood on the ice near their bench, stunned into paralysis. Finally, captain Patrice Bergeron skated to center ice to salute the fans before Boston retreated to their locker room. Bergeron, who may have played his last NHL game, stayed on the ice to embrace longtime teammate Brad Marchand, before saluting the crowd again and leaving the rink.
The Bruins made their boldest coaching decision of the series before Game 7, benching goalie Linus Ullmark in favor of the 24-year-old Swayman.
While Boston used both goalies in a regular-season tandem – Ullmark (40-6-1) played 49 games while Swayman (24-6-4) played 37 games — Ullmark started all six games of the series against the Panthers. Although he made a brief appearance in Game 4, Swayman hadn’t started a game since the Bruins’ season finale at Montreal on April 13.
Swayman was loudly cheered by fans at TD Garden during pregame lineup announcements, as the crowd buzzed before Game 7. But they soon grew frustrated during the first period, as the Bruins hesitated to take shots on goal and took three minor penalties.
The Panthers struck first on a gorgeous give-and-go play in the waning moments of a first-period power play. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky started the play, setting the puck up for Montour. He raced through the neutral zone and passed to center Anton Lundell, who quickly fed the puck to back to Montour as he skated in-between all four Bruins penalty killers. His quick backhand flip beat Swayman at 12:23 for the 1-0 lead.
Florida made it 2-0 just 1:14 into the second period as Sam Reinhart fired a puck past Swayman from the slot for his fourth of the playoffs.
Boston finally got on the board at 7:52 courtesy of out of their most reliable playoff performers, center David Krejci. With defenseman Marc Staal in the penalty box for tripping, his shot from the left side beat Bobrovsky.
It was his 43rd career playoff goal in 160 career playoff games.
The Bruins tied the game on the power play to begin the third period after David Pastrnak drew a roughing penalty on Montour. Forward Tyler Bertuzzi tipped home a shot from defenseman Dmitry Orlov just 55 seconds into the period.
Then it was Pastrnak playing the hero at 4:11 of the third. Defenseman Brandon Carlo’s shot thumped off of Bobrovsky’s pads directly to Pastrnak, who scored 61 goals in the regular season. He scored his fifth of the series to give Boston its first lead of Game 7, leaping into the glass in celebration in front of a now-frenzied TD Garden crowd.
But that crowd was left stunned when the Panthers’ tied Game 7 at 3-3 with one minute left in regulation and Bobrovsky pulled. Aleksander Barkov’s shot from the top of the zone was blocked by Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron straight to Montour, whose quick shot beat Swayman for this second goal of the night. His teammates mobbed him against the boards, while Panthers players embraced on the bench.
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