(Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer / AP Photo)

By: Jason Cooke | Follow me on Twitter / X @cookejournalism

Well, that was familiar. The Florida Panthers eliminated the New York Rangers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals, advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second straight season. They await either the Edmonton Oilers or Dallas Stars in their quest to raise a banner for the first time in franchise history.

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And for the fifth straight season, the Boston Bruins will be watching from the golf course, failing to return to the big stage since their tragic fall in 2019. The Panthers, not the Bruins, have become the model for teams to replicate in playoff hockey. If that wasn’t clear after Florida pulled off an all-time upset over Boston in 2023, it’s more evident than ever in 2024. Not only did the Panthers completely deter Boston from their game for the second consecutive season, but they did the same thing to the Rangers—the 2024 Presidents Trophy Winners—to advance to the Finals. How ironic.

And the Rangers’ collapse was a mere mirror image of Boston’s second-round exit. The Panthers held the Bruins to 12 goals, proceeding to silence a high-octane Rangers offense to 13. New York scored a sixth-most 282 goals in the regular season. It didn’t matter that they had Igor Shesterkin between the pipes, just as it didn’t matter how Jeremy Swayman boasted a .933 save percentage in the playoffs. Shesterkin faced 200 shots in the six-game rally. He saved 186 of them. That’s a .933 save percentage.

The Panthers also found a way to shut down a high-flying Rangers power play, which was 1-for-15 in the series. As for the Bruins’ power play? They were 1-for-16. The striking similarities don’t end there. David Pastrnak (47) and Artemi Panarin (49) led their respective clubs in scoring throughout the regular season. Both superstars mustered just one goal against the Panthers in their playoff meetings. The Panthers pounced in the third period, outscoring the Bruins 9-4 and the Rangers 7-3. There’s a clear recipe in place that Flordia has mastered—and the Bruins should use it as a road map.

Change Shooting Philosophy

Bruins bench boss Jim Montgomery made it very clear what Boston’s mentality was regarding putting rubber on the cage: quality over quantity. That way of thinking stemmed from management, as Don Sweeney told reporters after Game Five that Boston wasn’t a shot-volume team. Maybe they should be.

The Panthers sure are, firing 192 shots on Swayman throughout the six-game series. The Bruins put just 129 shots on Sergei Bobrovsky. How can you win a playoff series when you’re on the wrong end of a 63-shot difference in the pucks-on-net battle? This is something Montgomery and staff should reconsider their position on. When you have premier goal scorers in Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Charlie McAvoy, they should be aggressive with the puck on their stick. They weren’t, and it cost the Bruins just like it cost the Rangers.

Add Some Offensive Firepower

But in the same breath, maybe the Bruins simply need more offense up front. The Panthers acquired Vladimir Tarasenko for third-line depth at the trade deadline to an already loaded offense. While the Bruins were rather hamstrung at what they could swing for, they certainly aren’t this summer. Martin Necas has been a player circulating trade rumors, and it’s something the Bruins should be all over. Necas is coming off a 24-29-53 season and would be a threatening addition to Boston’s middle-six.

The Panthers have these names smeared all over their lineup. Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Reinhart, Aleksander Barkov, Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe, and Evan Rodrigues headline a dangerous Panthers attack. It was too much for the Bruins and Rangers even with two goaltenders standing on their heads.

Bolster the Blue Line

The Bruins and Rangers were out-classed by the Bruins, especially in a category that isn’t exactly tangible: toughness. The Bruins and Rangers were out-toughed. That’s not to say the Bruins didn’t do everything they could to match Florida’s heft. Pastrnak dropped the gloves with Tkachuk. McAvoy laid some big hits throughout the series. Pat Maroon made himself available for a fight, but the Panthers didn’t oblige. And that’s what the Panthers do best. They get under your skin enough to take you off your game. The Bruins were too focused on righting wrongs than winning hockey games.

While this won’t completely solve the problem, the Bruins can help their cause by adding some grit to their defensive core. The Panthers line their backend with the likes of Brandon Montour, Gustav Forsling, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Aaron Ekblad. That’s a lot of sandpaper. The Bruins just didn’t have that. Brandon Carlo was defensively sound but wasn’t as physical. Andrew Peeke would block a shot or win a puck battle but he wasn’t in your face. There just wasn’t enough to disrupt the Panthers in the offensive zone. Jakob Chychrun and Brady Skjei have been mentioned as fits for the Bruins, but the options are endless this offseason.

The Bruins are no longer the model for success in the National Hockey League. The B’s used to be fast, physical, and relentless. It’s what got them to three Stanley Cup Finals between 2011 and 2019. In this new day and age, the Panthers are how an NHL team should be constructed–and the Bruins should take notes this summer.