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Bruins’ playoff run exposed a huge roster flaw that needs to be addressed ASAP – NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins’ exit from the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs was frustrating for fans.

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

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 goaltenders with a .933 save percentage through the first two rounds.

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

Of 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 fewer per game in the playoffs than they did in the regular season, which is a pretty steep drop.

“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 chances. 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 crucial for the Bruins. There are many conclusions to be drawn from the Bruins’ loss to the Panthers, but one major flaw in Boston’s roster that this series – and the playoffs as a whole – exposed is a lack of offensive talent from the elite.

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

The advantage of having multiple playmakers up front is that the opponent cannot concentrate most of their attention and double down defensively on a single player. Anything can happen in one game, but over the course of a seven-game series, it’s hard to win with one elite striker. You might be able to get away with it for one round, especially if your goalie plays crazy – as Swayman did in Round 1 – but over four rounds, that’s not a winning strategy.

Brad Marchand is still a lefty left winger, but he is 36 years old. Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle are very good players. Neither 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 therefore played a lot on the left wing against the Panthers. Coyle scored one goal in thirteen games during the 2024 playoffs, and he scored just five goals in his final 27 postseason games.

Jake DeBrusk led the B’s in playoff scoring with 11 points in 13 games, but he’s far too inconsistent to rely on. Morgan Geekie is a very good third-line player. If he’s one of your top six centers, which has been the case for most of the Panthers series, you’re in trouble. Outside of Pastrnak, there isn’t a single forward on the B roster that scares the opposition.

Certainly, Pastrnak should have and should have played better than he did in the playoffs. He had five points (three goals, two assists) in seven games against the Leafs, but scored just one goal in six games against the Panthers. Eight points (four goals, four assists) in thirteen playoff games is a bit disappointing for a player of Pastrnak’s caliber. Other than the winning goal in overtime of Game 7 against Toronto, Pastrnak had no memorable scoring moments in the postseason.

Opponents tried their best to beat Pastrnak at every opportunity. He had 35 hits in 13 playoff games, the third most of all B forwards. Pastrnak even fought Matthew Tkachuk in Game 2 of the second round.

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

The Bruins lost 102 of the 301 goals they scored during the 2022-2023 season due to player departures last summer. And they couldn’t replace any of those good players because of salary cap restrictions. It was all up to Pastrnak to perform, and he did so in the regular season.

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

The Bruins only had two players reach the 65-point mark this season. Only nine teams had fewer, and all missed the playoffs. Pastrnak urgently needs help.

You can’t win the Stanley Cup with one elite forward changing the game. 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 if you scan the rosters of the remaining playoff teams, they all have multiple forwards (and some defensemen) who are game-changing talents. Players capable of winning a play-off game virtually on their own.

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 a total of five 70-point scorers. The Vancouver Canucks have JT Miller, Elias Pettersson and defenseman Quinn Hughes. The Dallas Stars are something of an exception. They don’t have a top 10 offensive player, but they had eight scorers with 20 goals this season, plus a top five defenseman in Miro Heiskanen.

These elite teams all have a lot of firepower. When McDavid struggles, Leon Draisaitl picks up the slack. If Tkachuk is ineffective or takes bad penalties, Barkov and Reinhart will step up, as we saw in their series against the Bruins. If Pastrnak and Marchand aren’t playing at their top level, who among the other members of this team can be trusted to step up when it matters most?

Finding a second top scorer will not be easy. These players are rarely eligible for free agency anymore, and trading for them is quite expensive.

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

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

He is a true top-six forward and a very good two-way player. He is also elite on faceoffs, an area where the Bruins struggled 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 scored 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 more than 20 goals eight times. Guentzel scored more than 30 goals in three consecutive seasons and won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2017.

The Bruins have a solid foundation to build on 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 best two-way wings in the league. Mason Lohrei and Matthew Poitras showed great potential as rookies.

This team isn’t far from being a real contender. But unless Sweeney can acquire another top-six forward, whether it’s a playmaker or a natural scorer on the wing, it’s hard to imagine this group making it past the second round next season. Making these types of upgrades should be the Bruins’ No. 1 priority this offseason.