Bruins on Boylston: Could the B’s be the next NHL super-team to experience a first-round collapse?


Illustration by Ryan Yau

The 2019 Tampa Bay Lightning tied the NHL’s regular season wins record—and then were swept in the first round of the playoffs. Could the Bruins suffer the same fate?

By Leo Kagan, Assistant Sports Editor

On April 16, 2019, the Columbus Blue Jackets shocked the hockey world and made NHL history by completing a 4-0 sweep of the league-best Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

The Lightning, coming off a league record-tying 62-win regular season in which they captured the President’s Trophy, were unprepared for the hard-nosed, gritty playoff style of the Blue Jackets, getting outscored 19-9 in an unceremonious sweep. 

It didn’t matter that the Blue Jackets would go on to lose a five-game second round series to the Boston Bruins—the Lightning were thoroughly embarrassed. How could such a dominant regular season team lose so easily to a club that snuck into the playoffs in the wild card seed? 

In retrospect, it’s easier to understand the final result. Columbus’ best players were up to the task—then-Blue Jackets center Matt Duchene tallied seven points in four games and star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky put up a cool .932 save percentage. At the other end of the rink, Tampa’s stars stuttered. Shutdown defenseman Erik Cernak led the entire team with just three points. Lightning superstar winger Nikita Kucherov—who notched 128 points in the regular season—only scored a pair of assists in the playoffs, and was suspended for Game 3 of the series after an illegal check he laid in Game 2. 

But forget about the regular season, the collective underperformance of the Lightning, even the omnipotent coaching influence of then-Blue Jackets bench boss John Tortorella—the Lightning were supposed to win. 

Tampa’s club would return to the playoffs next season and win back-to-back championships in 2020 and 2021, proving the 2019 embarrassment to be a fluke. 2023’s Bruins, however, do not have as much time. 

This year’s Bruins club is just as dominant as 2019’s Lightning, perhaps even more so, with the all-time win record within their sights. The only difference between the B’s of ‘23 and the Bolts of ‘19 is the age of their core: while the Lightning had most of their key players locked up with long-term deals, the Bruins’ top-two centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are nearing the midnight of their NHL careers. This may be the Bruins’ last chance at a championship for some time. 

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to entertain the anxious fan within and dust off the Compare-inator to stack up the Bruins against their potential first-round opponents and identify where a Bruins collapse might come against each of those three teams. 

After all, if the 2019 Lightning could lose in the first round, anybody can. 

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins are what they are: an old, struggling team with insufficient depth. In some ways, they are like a version of the Bruins without any young supporting talent like wingers David Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk or defenseman Charlie McAvoy. 

But they’re also still in the playoff race because they boast a pair of franchise centermen who defy age year after year: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. 

It’s incredibly difficult for a single player to really take over a playoff series—just ask Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid—but the Penguins have two forwards who have proven their playoff dominance, and each has a Conn Smythe Trophy victory to prove it. 

If Malkin and Crosby can both turn back the clock and the Penguins can find a little more help from a depth-starved bottom-six, the Bruins might run into trouble. 

Still, the Pens are no match for the Bruins. At every position, the B’s are better, most importantly in goal, where the Bruins have the league’s best netminder in Linus Ullmark. Crucial, then, to the Penguins’ success will be a Tristan Jarry resurgence—a tall order given Jarry’s playoff history and overall struggles this season. 

Compare-inator says: Bruins win (provided Malkin, Crosby are too old, Jarry can’t find a rhythm). 

New York Islanders

For years, the Islanders have been a puzzling team—they lack any true starpower beyond forward Mat Barzal and yet in 2020 and 2021 they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Last year, it seemed like the magic formula dissolved and the Isles were suddenly too old to compete in the postseason. This year, they’ve returned to relevancy after General Manager Lou Lamiorello swung for the fences at the trade deadline and acquired center Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks. 

Still, the Islanders aren’t even approaching the Bruins’ level—similar to the Penguins, the Isles are too old and lacking in depth, which is why they’re clinging to a wild card spot and not competing for a divisional title. 

The Islanders don’t stand a chance against the Bruins unless two things go right: the goaltending and the power-play. 

On the first front, the Isles seem to be set. If Ullmark is the league’s best netminder, Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin is No. 2. Though his traditional counting stats are less impressive (.923 save percentage to Ullmark’s .938, 2.41 goals against average to Ullmark’s 1.88) the defenders in front of Sorokin are less impressive and his usage has been heavier all season long. 

Sorokin is a bona-fide franchise goalie, and if he heats up, the Bruins will face stiffer competition than they have all season in the goal-scoring department. 

The Islanders have struggled considerably, however, on the power play. The man-advantage unit has operated at a dreadful 16.19 percent clip over the course of the season, good for third-worst in the league. The addition of Horvat, a tremendous goal-scorer, should’ve given the power-play a boost, but Horvat is riding a cold streak of late. 

If he can find his scoring touch in the playoffs and Sorokin can turn into Super-Sorokin, the Isles could pose a real threat to the B’s. 

Compare-inator says: Bruins win (provided Sorokin is mortal, Horvat stays cold). 

Florida Panthers

The Panthers have the slimmest chance of finding their way into the playoffs at this point, but they’re still in the running. They’re anchored offensively by left winger Matthew Tkachuk, whose 102 points tie him for fourth in the league with the Bruins’ Pastrnak. They also boast one of the league’s best defensive centers in Aleksander Barkov—the key to the Panthers’ potential playoff success will hinge on their ability to peak at the same time. 

If Tkachuk is sniping in goals at the same rate—or faster—than Pastrnak, and Barkov can shut down the Bruins’ best, the Panthers will have a much better chance of beating the Bruins. 

Also key to their success—like just about any playoff contender—will be their goaltending. Former Blue Jackets ace Bobrovsky has been one of the league’s most polarizing goaltenders in recent years. After Vezina Trophy wins in 2013 and 2017 as the league’s best netminder, Bobrovsky has struggled to consistently deliver the same level of brilliance while in Florida. His excellence was the biggest reason why it took the B’s five games to beat the Blue Jackets in 2019—he’ll need to repeat in 2023 in order to carry the Panthers past the Bruins. 

Compare-inator says: Bruins win (provided Tkachuk and Barkov don’t align, Bobrovsky remains inconsistent). 


The Bruins are more likely to sweep their first round opponent than lose to them, but that’s what pundits and sportswriters said about the 2019 Lightning too. 

That said, lightning rarely strikes the same place twice. The Bruins are not guaranteed to capture a Stanley Cup championship—President’s Trophy winners don’t frequently capture the sport’s ultimate prize, which is largely due to the league’s parity and the degree to which the playoffs depend on luck. 

The Bruins’ success will hinge upon that luck—one can only hope it runs out later rather than sooner.