Bruins’ playoff run exposed huge roster flaw that must be fixed ASAP

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Bruins’ playoff run exposed huge roster flaw that must be fixed ASAP originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins‘ exit from the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs was a frustrating one for fans.

Sure, the Florida Panthers were clearly a better team than the Bruins, and their Eastern Conference second-round series win over the Original Six club in six games was a deserved one.

But the series was winnable for the Bruins. They had leads in Games 4 and 6 but lost both. Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman played very well with a .917 save percentage in the series. He led all goalies with a .933 save percentage through the first two rounds.

The No. 1 reason why the Bruins lost was their inability to score goals. Boston failed to score more than two goals in each of the last five games of the Panthers series. In fact, the B’s scored two or fewer goals in eight of their last nine playoff games. It’s really, really hard to beat top-tier opponents in the postseason with an offense struggling to that degree.

Among the 16 playoff teams, Boston ranked 12th in goals scored per game, ninth in power-play percentage, 15th in shots per game and 14th in faceoff percentage after two rounds. The Bruins scored almost a full goal less per game in the playoffs compared to the regular season, which is a pretty steep decline.

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“The lack of our ability to score in the playoffs, in general — you can’t win every game 2-1,” Boston head coach Jim Montgomery said after the Game 6 loss to the Panthers. “We had the opportunities. We had five odd-man rushes after two periods (in Game 6). In Game 4, we had several breakaways. Their goalie was good, and we didn’t beat him.”

The upcoming offseason is a pivotal one for the Bruins. There are many takeaways from the Bruins’ loss to the Panthers, but one huge flaw in Boston’s roster that this series — and the playoffs as a whole — exposed is a lack of elite offensive talent.

How many elite offensive players do the Bruins have? David Pastrnak. That’s the end of the list. When your best player is a right wing, and you don’t have a traditional top-six center, that’s typically not a recipe for being a Cup contender — even if that player is as talented as Pastrnak.

The benefit of having multiple game-breakers at forward is the opponent can’t focus the majority of its attention and double down defensively on one single player. Anything can happen in one game, but over the course of a seven-game series, it’s tough to win with one elite forward. Maybe you can get away with it for a single round, especially if your goalie plays out of his mind — like Swayman did in Round 1 — but over four rounds that’s not a winning strategy.

Brad Marchand is still a top-tier two-way left wing, but he’s 36 years old. Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle are very good players. Neither one is the second- or third-best forward on a championship-caliber team. Zacha has one goal in 25 career playoff games. He was largely ineffective at center during the playoffs and played a lot of left wing versus the Panthers as a result. Coyle scored one goal in 13 games during the 2024 playoffs, and he has just five goals in his last 27 postseason matchups.

Jake DeBrusk led the B’s in playoff scoring with 11 points in 13 games, but he’s way too inconsistent to be relied on. Morgan Geekie is a really good third-line player. If he’s one of your top-six centers, which was the case for most of the Panthers series, you’re in trouble. Outside of Pastrnak, not one forward on this B’s roster is scaring the opponent.

Sure, Pastrnak should have and needed to play better than he did in the playoffs. He had five points (three goals, two assists) in seven games against the Leafs, but he scored only one goal in six games versus the Panthers. Eight points (four goals, four assists) in 13 playoff games is a bit underwhelming for a player of Pastrnak’s caliber. Outside of the series-winning goal in overtime of Game 7 versus Toronto, Pastrnak didn’t have any memorable scoring moments in the postseason.

Opponents made a concerted effort to rough up Pastrnak at every opportunity. He took 35 hits in 13 playoff games, the third-most of any B’s forward. Pastrnak even fought Matthew Tkachuk in Game 2 of the second round.

Pastrnak had an incredible regular season. Without the benefit of playing next to Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci for the first time in his career, he led the Bruins with 47 goals, 18 more than Brad Marchand in second. Pastrnak’s 63 assists were a new career high and 25 more than the next-closest player on the roster.

The Bruins lost 102 of the 301 goals they scored during the 2022-23 season as a result of players leaving last summer. And they couldn’t replace any of those good players because of salary cap constraints. It was all on Pastrnak to deliver, and he did in the regular season.

He led the team in scoring by a whopping 43 points. The only player in the league who led his team in scoring by more than 43 points was Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (he led by 54 points). But second place on the Lightning was Brayden Point at 90 points, far more than Marchand’s 67. Only four teams — Lightning, Rangers, Avalanche and Bruins — had a gap of 28 or more points between their first and second-leading scorers this season.

The Bruins had just two players hit the 65-point mark this season. Only nine teams had fewer, and all of them missed the playoffs. Pastrnak desperately needs some help.

You can’t win the Stanley Cup with one elite game-changing forward. Take a look at the last 10 Stanley Cup winners — Golden Knights, Avalanche, Lightning, Blues, Capitals, Penguins, Blackhawks and Kings. All of them, with the possible exception of the Blues, had at least two elite forwards.

And when you scan the rosters of the remaining playoff teams, they all have multiple forwards (and some defensemen) who are game-breaking talents. Players capable of winning a playoff game pretty much by themselves.

The Edmonton Oilers have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman. The Florida Panthers have Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart. The New York Rangers have Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider, and five 70-point scorers in total. The Vancouver Canucks have J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and defenseman Quinn Hughes. The Dallas Stars are sort of an exception. They don’t have a top 10 offensive player, but they had eight 20-goal scorers this season, plus a top-five defenseman in Miro Heiskanen.

These elite teams all have loads of firepower. If McDavid is struggling, Leon Draisaitl picks up the slack. If Tkachuk is not effective or taking bad penalties, Barkov and Reinhart will step up, as we saw in their series against the Bruins. If Pastrnak and Marchand are not playing at an elite level, who else on this team can be relied on to step up when it matters most?

Finding a second elite goal scorer won’t be easy. These players rarely get to free agency anymore, and trading for them is pretty costly.

But the Bruins will have some roster flexibility in the summer. If they trade Linus Ullmark, they could have around $26 million in salary cap space, per CapFriendly. They would still need to re-sign Jeremy Swayman and maybe DeBrusk, but they will have the cap room to at least attempt a major move. They didn’t have that luxury last summer. And if there’s one area where Don Sweeney excels in more than most of his peers, it’s making trades. His record is extremely strong there.

Veteran center Elias Lindholm is the free agent who makes the most sense.

He’s a legit top-six forward and a very good two-way player. He’s also elite on faceoffs — an area the Bruins struggled in during the regular season and playoffs. The Bruins reportedly had interest in Lindholm before the trade deadline. He was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, and after a slow start with his new team, he has posted nine points (five goals, four assists) in 12 playoff games.

Panthers right wing Sam Reinhart, Lightning center Steven Stamkos, Devils right wing Tyler Toffoli and Hurricanes right wing Jake Guentzel are the other top forwards who could hit the free agent market this summer. Reinhart scored 57 goals this season. Stamkos just completed his seventh 40-goal season despite being 34. Toffoli has scored 20-plus goals eight times. Guentzel has scored 30-plus goals in three consecutive seasons, and he won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2017.

The Bruins have a solid foundation to build around from a roster perspective. They have a top 10 goalie in Swayman. They have a top 10/top 15 blue line, led by Charlie McAvoy. Pastrnak is a premier offensive player. Marchand is a great captain and one of the league’s best two-way wings. Mason Lohrei and Matthew Poitras showed great potential as rookies.

This team isn’t too far away from being a real contender. But if Sweeney doesn’t acquire another top-six forward, whether it’s a playmaking center or a natural goal scorer on the wing, it’s hard to envision this group getting past the second round next season. Making this kind of upgrade needs to be the Bruins’ No. 1 offseason priority.

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