For the first time since the President’s Trophy was awarded to the best regular-season National Hockey League team in 1985-86, the current President’s Trophy winner with play the defending regular-season champion when the Boston Bruins face the Florida Panthers in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs on Monday. The Bruins (65-12-5) set the NHL record for wins and points (135) this season and will be the number one overall seed in the postseason. Florida (42-32-8) was the top seed last season but was eliminated in a four-game sweep by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Bruins-Panthers: The Season Series
The Bruins were 2-1-1 in the four games against Florida this season. The Panthers were one of two teams to beat Boston twice (Ottawa Senators were the other). Here is the breakdown of all four games:
October 17: Bruins 5, Panthers 3 at Boston
Jake DeBrusk scores 21 seconds into the game for Boston. After Sam Bennett tied it in the second period, Patrice Bergeron scored to make it 2-1 Boston. David Pastrnak and Trent Frederic scored in the third to make it 4-1. The Panthers cut the lead to 4-3 on goals by Gustav Forsling and Colin White. An empty-net goal by DeBrusk sealed the victory for goaltender Linus Ullmark.
November 23: Panthers 5, Bruins 2 at Florida
Five different goal scorers for Florida as they hand the Bruins just their third loss of the season at the time. The Panthers score three second-period goals and get three power-play goals in the game. Aaron Ekblad tallied a goal and two assists for Florida. Spencer Knight made 37 saves for the victory.
December 19: Bruins 7, Panthers 3 at Boston
The Bruins get revenge less than a month later with a resounding win. Bruins almost blew a 4-0 lead as the Panthers cut it to 4-3 in the second. Bergeron scored two third-period goals to seal the victory for Ullmark. The Bruins captain finished the game with two goals and two assists. Linemate Brad Marchand collected three assists.
January 28: Panthers 4, Bruins 3 in OT at Florida.
Sam Reinhart scores the game-winner in overtime to give Florida the win. Alex Lyon made 38 saves to get the victory. Aleksander Barkov had a goal and two assists for Florida, giving him two goals and four assists against Boston this season.
Bruins-Panthers Goaltender matchup
The Bruins goaltenders won the Jennings Trophy as the league’s best tandem this season. Linus Ullmark will be the Game 1 starter and finished the season with a 40-6-1 record and was 2-0-0 against Florida. Panthers Head Coach Paul Maurice has not announced a Game 1 starter, but it would most likely be Alex Lyon, who led the Panthers into the postseason on a 6-1-1 stretch where he put up a .952 save percentage and a 1.52 goals-against average. The backup Sergei Bobrovsky has not played in a game since March 27 after suffering an illness.
Bruins-Panthers Special Teams
The Bruins and Panthers have eerily similar power play numbers. Boston has 62 powerplay goals on the season, while Florida has 63. Florida is slightly ahead of Boston in success percentage (22.8-22.2). The penalty kill is where Boston has a decided advantage. The Bruins are first in the league shorthanded at 87.3 percent. Florida is in the bottom third of the league, with a success rate of 75.9 percent.
Bruins in 5. Both teams should be relatively healthy. Sam Bennett was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, leaving his status in doubt. Bennett scored 16 goals with 24 assists on the season. The Bruins seem relatively healthy and have some decisions to make, with veterans Nick Foligno and Derek Forbort getting closer to returning to the lineup.
The Panthers can score goals, but Boston is among the stingiest teams in the league defensively. Boston has an edge in three important areas: goaltending, depth, and penalty killing. Florida could create some challenges for Boston with Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk providing offensive power, but Boston’s deep defensive core and 61-goal scorer Pastrnak should be up to the task, which gives Boston the first-round history.