By: Mike Sullivan | @_MikeSullivan
These are the most exciting, nauseating, intriguing, and captivating words in sports. Game seven. It is almost unfathomable for a historic team such as the 2022-2023 Boston Bruins to have their 65-win season on the brink of elimination in one do-or-die game. So, how did we get here?
The Bruins, all season long, have dominated their opponents, smashing records left and right on their way to setting the new NHL wins record at 65. Smooth, relaxed, and simple hockey was the theme of the regular season, led by an aging core and two stellar goaltenders in Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. Yet, the Florida Panthers, led by Matt Tkachuk, have pushed the Boston Bruins to the brink of disaster as their season hangs on by a thread.
Boston started this series without their captain Patrice Bergeron as he suffered an upper-body injury in the final game of the regular season. Undoubtedly, his leadership in the lineup was dearly missed, yet they still managed to capture game one. Unfortunately, it was all downhill after that.
Sloppy play and mismanagement of the puck in crucial areas of the defensive zone have been downright suffocating to this team. The Bruins have turned the puck over a blasphemous 70 times in the six games this series, with over ten giveaways a game. This has directly led to turmoil in their own end and gifting Florida goals and momentum. The turnovers must stop if the Bruins want to capture a series win tonight and keep their season alive. Sloppy, stupid mistakes like those will drown you.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention goaltending. Just because Linus Ullmark had one of the best regular seasons of all time, doesn’t mean he should be exempt from criticism. However, before I mention his play, we must recognize the fact that the Bruins wouldn’t be in the position they’re in today without him. He was undoubtedly the best goalie in the National Hockey League this season; he was consistently excellent. This is why what we’re seeing is unsettling to the highest degree.
In the regular season, Linus Ullmark posted a record of 40-6-1 with a 1.89 goals against average and a .938 save percentage. Downright astonishing statistics. In the playoffs, he’s struggled mightily. He’s 3-3 with a 3.33 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage. That’s not going to get it done. Some speculate he’s playing with an injury, and if that’s the case, in my opinion, Jim Montgomery should switch to Swayman. Your goaltender is the backbone of any hockey team, and if he’s hurt and struggling, you have to make the switch, especially when you have a goaltender in Jeremy Swayman, who’s had an exceptional season himself.
Jeremy Swayman, during the regular season, posted a record of 24-6-4 with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. He has yet to start a game in this playoff run. Had I been in Jim Montgomery’s position, and this is my personal opinion, I would’ve started Swayman game five when you were comfortably ahead in the series. Now, you have a tired, potentially injured Linus Ullmark and a cold Jeremy Swayman, who hasn’t seen any game time in almost two weeks, possibly starting game seven.
For Jim Montgomery’s incredible inaugural season as the Boston Bruins head coach, there’s been very little to criticize. He’s the frontrunner for the Jack Adam’s Award and has kept this team glued together all season long. It’s difficult to criticize a coach who’s had as successful of a season as he has but his quote after the rocky back and forth game six troubled me. After the Bruins’ seven to five loss in Florida he was quoted as saying. “That was a great hockey game. I mean, wow.” I understand the positive energy needs to be reflected outwards but the reality is, you’re one loss away from throwing this historic season away. A little more anger would’ve been nice to hear. This quote makes me think the mental state of the Bruins has shifted away from what we’ve seen all season.
That’s not to say my confidence level isn’t high. It is. We all know how unpredictable game sevens are. Anything can happen. When push comes to shove, I’m taking the team with experienced veterans and invaluable leadership. Guys who have gotten it done before, guys with championship pedigree and their names etched forever on the Stanley Cup. Guys like Patrice Bergeron. Guys like David Krejci. Guys like Brad Marchand who are going to lead this team out of the abyss they’ve found themselves in. You have home-ice advantage for a reason, now go out there and seize it.