Boston Bruins vow not to 'fall off' after playoff disaster

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins stood around their bench, paralyzed by defeat.

It was Game 7 of their 2023 Eastern Conference first-round series against the Florida Panthers. The Bruins were the most successful regular team in NHL history, setting new standards for wins (65) and points (135) in a single season. The 2022-23 NHL Awards would confirm that they had the league's best goalie, best coach and best defensive forward. They bolstered their roster at the trade deadline, pushing what was already a Stanley Cup favorite into that rarified air of championship inevitability.

With one flick of Carter Verhaeghe's stick in overtime, those accomplishments were relegated to sports trivia. They were a footnote in someone else's championship story.

"We made history - regular season history. Which obviously wasn't our biggest goal," defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. "It was weird. It felt like everything in the regular season had gone so perfect, and then for two weeks, it just ... didn't."

For a few moments after Game 7, the Bruins weren't sure what to do. They'd shaken the Panthers' hands before Florida retreated to the visitors' locker room for a raucous celebration. Some players stared off into the distance, their competitive spirits having temporarily left their bodies. The TD Garden crowd was in stunned silence, with many fans remaining in their seats trying to process how the script had been flipped.

Finally, center Patrice Bergeron raised his stick and skated towards the middle of the ice. His teammates slowly reanimated and joined him in saluting the crowd, who cheered their city's heroes. Bergeron would acknowledge every Bruins player as they left the ice, taking a few extra moments to embrace linemate Brad Marchand before Bergeron himself saluted the crowd again.

It would be his last on-ice act as Boston Bruins captain.