Bruins on Boylston: Why the B’s could be more Avalanche than Lightning in the postseason


Illustration by Rachel Choi

The Boston Bruins are 2-1 in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

By Leo Kagan, Assistant Sports Editor

The 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning—winners of that year’s President’s Trophy with a NHL record-tying 62-win regular season—were unceremoniously swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

A few years removed from the embarrassing loss(es), this sweep is just another aspect of the Lightning mythos: they earned the best regular season record of any NHL team since 1996, got humiliated in the playoffs, learned how to play postseason hockey, and then won back-to-back Cups. 

It’s a classic story: the young and talented team that wins too much in the regular season gets shown up in the playoffs before they can take the next step. In some ways, the 2022-23 Boston Bruins are a mirror reflection of the ‘19 Lightning. Both teams had historic regular seasons—though the Bruins’ 65 wins and 135 points were a shade better than the Bolts’—and entered the postseason with strength and depth at every position.

The only difference? The B’s may be talented, but they sure aren’t young. 

The Bruins’ top two centers, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, are 36- and 37-years-old respectively. Left wingers Brad Marchand and Nick Foligno are both 34. Comparatively, the average NHL player is 27 this season

The disappointed 2019 Lightning at least had future playoff runs to look forward to. Of their core players, none were over 30, but for the juggernaut Bruins, this season might be their last shot at a championship for some time. 

Hopefully, the Bruins are not just older than the Lightning, but more successful too. 

The “winning too much in the regular season” narrative doesn’t just apply to young teams. Plenty of sportswriters—including myself—have questioned whether the Bruins’ historic regular season will translate to a history-repeats-itself kind of first-round collapse

A great deal of weight is assigned to the heavy nature of the playoffs—writers love to say the postseason takes a toll on successful teams who didn’t face any regular season adversity. However, I would posit that the Bruins actually won’t collapse in the first round. In fact, I believe they don’t resemble the 2019 Lightning, but rather a very different contemporary champion: the 2021-22 Colorado Avalanche. 

The Avs of ‘22—who, ironically enough, defeated the back-to-back champion Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals—also coasted through the regular season, earning 56 wins before reaching the playoffs. With Norris Trophy winning defenseman Cale Makar and a murderer’s row of talented forwards leading the way, the Avs plowed their way through the postseason, losing a mere four games en route to the Stanley Cup. 

Similarly to the Lightning, the Avalanche struggled for several postseasons before reaching hockey’s pinnacle. In the three consecutive seasons prior to their championship, the Avalanche fell in the second round of the playoffs, but finally broke through with a fully matured core in ‘22. 

My question is this: if this veteran Bruins squad—whose core earned a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2019—has already toiled through postseason losses and earned their playoff stripes, why shouldn’t their spring end more like the Avalanche’s than the Lightning’s? 

The 2023 NHL playoffs are as competitive as they’ve ever been. Five teams in the Eastern Conference finished the regular season with more than 100 points, and even wild-card entries like the Bruins’ first-round-opponent Florida Panthers are legitimate contenders. It’s part of the reason why, according to The Athletic statistician Dom Luszczyszyn’s model, the Bruins have just a 27 percent chance of being crowned playoff champions. The parity is real. 

With the margins of error as thin as they are, the element of luck begins to play a bigger role in determining a given playoff series—a lucky (or unlucky) bounce can send a top-end team packing in the first round. 

But even with luck and parity in consideration, the Bruins are far more likely to snowball through the postseason like the ‘22 Avalanche than fizzle out like the ‘19 Lightning. 

The Bruins—already historically dominant and stocked with elite players at every position—have one more advantage over the rest of the 2023 playoff field: experience. It’s the intangible stuff—leadership, mental toughness, grit—that every GM and head coach espouses but fans outside the locker room don’t get to see. 

But for the Bruins, the intangibles are real, forged in the hearts of Bergeron, Marchand, and Krejci in their three separate runs to the Stanley Cup Finals (2011, 2013, 2019). The B’s will hope those intangibles can carry them through the next four rounds of the postseason. 

Even without Bergeron for the first three games of their opening series—and without Krejci for Game 3—the Bruins have managed to eke two wins out of the Panthers. Clearly, Bergeron and Krejci have been missed on the ice, where the B’s have not been as crisp in moving the puck as they were in the regular season. Game 2 was the most egregious example, where countless turnovers doomed the Bruins to a 6-2 loss. 

But even throughout what has been perhaps the toughest stretch of play in the regular season, the B’s have hunkered down and are leading this series. 

They have just one playoff loss to their name. I imagine that future playoff losses will be few and far between.