By: Lauren Spencer | Follow me on Twitter: @laurenspenc
At the start of the 2022-23 Bruins season, there were concerns about how well this team would perform, especially missing key players for the first few months. While many thought the Bruins would have an average but successful season, this was quickly proven not to be the case. The Bruins dominated the regular season, breaking records for most points and wins in a single season.
They consistently played tremendous hockey, only losing three times in a row once the entire season. Unfortunately, their season came to a close with a first-round exit and a 3-1 series lead collapse to the Florida Panthers. After such an outstanding regular season, you have to ask, what happened, and why didn’t the Bruins stick with their successful formula?
One of the factors that stands out as a weak point in the Bruins playoff run was their choice to stick with one goalie. During the season, Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman were treated as 1A and 1B goalies, earning themselves Jennings Trophy honors as the top goalie tandem in the league. This back-and-forth rotation helped ensure that both players stayed sharp and significantly contributed to this team’s success.
While it is true that most teams stick with one goalie for the series (barring unfortunate circumstances), the 2022-2023 Bruins were not most teams. Their goalie tandem had worked well in rotation all year, and it would have been to their benefit to keep that rotation alive. Ullmark did not play up to his usual standard in this series, and it has been reported that he was playing through injury.
If this is the case, the coaching staff should have stuck with the rotation they knew worked. Sharing the series between the two players could have helped close off the series when ahead 3-1 or 3-2. Instead, a goalie who hadn’t played real minutes in weeks made his debut in a crucial Game seven.
There were other strange choices made for the roster during this series. Playing Connor Clifton instead of Matt Grzelyck in Game six is one decision that potentially altered the series outcome. Clifton and his partner Derek Forbort did not play well in Game six, having multiple turnovers and missed plays, which played a role in the Bruins loss. Grzelyck had played well against this Florida team, helping build the series lead after wins in Games three and four. Sitting him only hurt the team when they could have closed it out.
Trent Frederic was another player that missed game time with the returns of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to the lineup. Frederic is a tough player who can match the physicality of the Panthers, but Jakub Lauko was placed in the lineup instead during Game five. Lauko took a (questionable) hooking penalty in the third period of this game, which led to the Panthers tying it up and eventually winning in overtime.
One of the reasons that the Bruins were so successful during the regular season was their ability to calm down the play and never lose focus. This quality seemed to have gone out the window during the playoffs. There were sloppy turnovers in the neutral zone, missed passes, and a lack of shots taken in favor of extra passes.
This may potentially be related to the big changes that the forward lines faced during this series. After the Game two loss, the lines were thrown into a blender and were constantly changing. This may have helped bring new energy in the short term, but it still seemed like an overreaction to blow up lines that have had proven chemistry and success after one loss.
Based on what Jim Montgomery and the team say in the next few days, we may get answers about some of the decisions made. Maybe there was a strong reason for making all of these changes, but for now, it looks like the Bruins broke themselves trying to fix issues that weren’t really there to begin with.
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