What would it take for Panthers to topple mighty Bruins in NHL playoffs?

Florida underachieved for much of the season, but the Panthers might just give the Bruins a scare.

To answer the question this headline poses, the Florida Panthers can beat the Boston Bruins in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

The word "can" has a lot of heavy lifting to do considering the Bruins finished with more 43 more points than the Panthers during the regular season. To put that in perspective, a team with 43 fewer points than the Panthers would sit a 49. We haven't seen a points total that low in a full season since the disastrous 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche.

So there's a significant gap here.

That doesn't mean the Bruins are going to eat the Panthers' lunch.

Florida is an excellent possession team that led the NHL in shots per game this season (36.8) and outshot opponents by a larger margin (4.9/game) than Boston (3.2). This offense isn't a plucky, organized group lacking top-end difference makers, either.

Aleksander Barkov is one of the best centers in the league, Carter Verhaeghe is an ascending scorer and if it weren't for Connor McDavid's historic season, Matthew Tkachuk would earn serious Hart Trophy consideration.

Florida's problems between the pipes have dissipated recently as well with unheralded journeyman Alex Lyon providing some unexpected stability.

There's a case for the Panthers, here, but if you're betting on Florida you're talking yourself into a serious underdog.

Boston has won 79.3 percent of its games this season and put up a goal differential (+128) better than the next two best teams in the Eastern Conference by that metric combined (+123).

Linus Ullmark has clearly been the best goaltender in the NHL this season, helping the Bruins allow 36 fewer goals than any other club — and giving them an advantage they frankly don't need.

If you're inclined to put plenty of stock into intangibles, the Bruins have one of the most battle-tested groups in the business and the Panthers can't say the same.

The Bruins shouldn't have a problem with the Panthers in the first-round of the NHL playoffs. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Bruins shouldn't have a problem with the Panthers in the first-round of the NHL playoffs. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

What have you done for me lately?

The Bruins could've easily geared down in the final stretch of the season due to their lead in the standings, but they've continued to roll with an 18-4-0 record since the beginning of March.

It's hard for even the most dedicated nitpickers to find something wrong with this squad, and closing out the season 10-1-0 doesn't leave much room for doubters.

The Panthers have a slightly more complicated story as they struggled through much of March with a 6-7-1 record between March 2 and 27, before finding their legs again. A six-game winning streak put them back in playoff position, and they finished their season with a pair of defeats.

It's a bit of a muddled picture, but during that time Lyon established himself as the starter in net, which has been a positive for this group.

The Bruins will win if...

Nothing particularly weird happens. That's a boring answer, but it's true. As long as Boston plays its game and Ullmark continues to roll the Bruins should be able to look ahead to a date with the Toronto Maple Leafs or Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Panthers will win if...

They win the goaltending battle by a solid margin. Asking a 30-year-old who'd only topped six NHL appearances in one of five seasons entering 2022-23 to get the better of the clear Vezina favorite is a bit much. Still, the Panthers aren't likely to be shelled game in and game out, even against an elite squad like the Bruins.

Florida had a better expected goals for percentage (53.73%) than Boston (53.15%) at 5-on-5 during the regular season. If Ullmark isn't sharp, the Panthers can control the play enough to make the Bruins pay.

Series hero

The defending Selke Trophy winner isn't as flashy as some of the NHL's top stars and he's on the down side of his aging curve at 37, but he's still a force to be reckoned with.

Bergeron can be deployed with confidence in any situation and he's likely to not only erase top players but help generate offense.

When the veteran was on the ice at 5-on-5 this year the Bruins had a 71.9% goal share. That was tops among the 278 forwards with 750-plus minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. That wasn't all just PDO magic, either, as his on-ice expected goal rate (63.2%) also topped that sample.

This will be Bergeron's 14th appearance in the playoffs, and he rarely disappoints.

The Fernando Pisani Trophy (Unsung Hero)

We're going to go with another old guy here as Eric Staal plays a complementary but important role for the Panthers.

The veteran started his shifts in the defensive zone more than any other Panther who played 15 or more games this season (53.2%) and he made life difficult for opponents while chipping in on offense.

He's no longer a star, or a top-six player, but he's a versatile contributor with more than a full regular season's worth of playoff games — and a Stanley Cup win — on his resume. Staal is unlikely to stand out from the beginning of this series to the end, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him pop up in a key moment or two.


Boston in five