The Boston Bruins had a regular season for the ages. They set an NHL record with 135 points and with ease. But after looking like one of the more dominant teams that the league has ever seen, the Bruins saw their Stanley Cup aspirations come to a stunning halt on Sunday.
The Florida Panthers, who finished a staggering 43 points behind the Bruins in the regular season standings, . Adding insult to injury, the Bruins squandered a 3-2 third period lead as they allowed the Panthers to tie the game in the final minute.
During the 2022 offseason and the trade deadline, the Bruins proved that they were a franchise that was going for it all. At the trade deadline, they acquired star winger Tyler Bertuzzi and defenseman Dmitry Orlov to add even more firepower to their roster.
But considering this deflating first-round exit, it begs the question: has the Bruins' window to win another Stanley Cup actually closed? In the immediate aftermath of Sunday's Game 7 loss, the scene told the whole story. Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron was seen hugging his teammates, and he even waved to the Boston crowd before leaving the ice.
It's quite possible that Bergeron has played the last game of his 19-year NHL career, all of which have come in a Bruins jersey.
"Right now, it's hard to process anything," Bergeron said after the loss, via Ty Anderson of 98.5 The Sports Hub. "It hurts right now."
Bergeron waited until August to sign a one-year deal to return to the Bruins. This time around, he'll be 38 when the 2023-24 season gets underway.
But it's not just Bergeron who the Bruins might be losing.
Boston also signed veteran center David Krejci to a one-year deal last summer after he spent a year playing in the Czech Republic. Despite being 37, Krejci proved to still be a productive asset as he registered 56 points (16 goals, 40 assists) during the regular season and even scored in Game 7.
If Bergeron and Krejci both retired, that would leave the Bruins without two of their top centers heading into next season.
There's more, though.
Bertuzzi and Orlov -- those aforementioned vital trade deadline acquisitions -- are both slated to become unrestricted free agents. They were essential to Boston's success down the stretch of the regular season. Bertuzzi was tied for the team lead in points (10) with Brad Marchand during the postseason. Bertuzzi tallied five goals and five assists, including netting three goals over the final two games of the series.
The Bruins parted with a first-round pick in order to acquire Bertuzzi, and it was a perfect fit. He excelled skating with Bergeron and Marchand throughout the series against the Panthers. Boston certainly would benefit from keeping Bertuzzi around for the foreseeable future, but he'll likely garner a ton of interest around the league.
Orlov also proved his worth from the moment he was acquired from the Washington Capitals. He tallied nine points in his first five games with the Bruins. Only Harry Cameron (15 points, 1917-18 Toronto Arenas) and Paul Coffey (10 points, 1992-93 Detroit Red Wings) registered more points than Orlov in their first five contests with a new franchise in league history. The 31-year-old blue-liner racked up eight assists against the Panthers, including one on Bertuzzi's game-tying goal in Game 7.
Orlov formed a strong tandem with Charlie McAvoy on the team's top pairing, so it certainly would behoove the Bruins to do everything they can to re-sign Orlov this summer.
But being realistic about the situation, when the dust settles in the offseason, it's possible that the Bruins could be losing all of Bergeron, Bertuzzi, Krejci and Orlov to either free agency or retirement. It's what makes the context of their first-round exit that much harder to process and so much more monumental.
The 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs was the team's best chance to make a deep run at a Stanley Cup. They were built to win right now. Is the window completely closed on the Bruins' championship aspirations? Perhaps not, depending on how this summer goes, but there's no doubt this postseason was a golden opportunity for the franchise.