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BOSTON (AP) — The NHL record-setting Boston Bruins only need to glance over at the opposing bench to see what’s happened to Presidents’ Trophy winners for nearly the last decade.
Coming off a record regular season that earned them the award with the most points (135) and wins (65) in league history, the Bruins begin their opening-round playoff series on Monday night at TD Garden against the Florida Panthers in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.
“They were in our shoes last year as Presidents’ Trophy winners,” Boston’s first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “And I think since the All-Star break, the record is one of the top six teams in the league.”
Both teams enter off a hot stretch. The Bruins won their final eight games and 15 of 16, while Florida had a six-game winning streak to clinch its wild-card spot before losing its final two.
Boston looks to become the first Presidents’ winner since the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks to hoist the Stanley Cup. Ironically, they skated around TD Garden with it after beating the Bruins in Game 6 that year.
“It’s been a magical season so far,” Montgomery said after clinching home ice throughout the playoffs. “We know the hardest part is ahead of us and we’re looking forward to that grind.”
The Panthers certainly understand what it’s like to carry the top record into the postseason. Last year, they got through a playoff round for the first time since 1996, then got swept in the next by Tampa Bay.
“It’s the right challenge for us this year. So exciting. Such a monumental challenge,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said. “And that’s where you want to be in the NHL and in pro sports. You want to be in the big game.”
If they learned anything from last year, the Panthers may understand that being No. 1 overall offers extra incentive for the opponent.
“We’re kind of going up against — I mean, let’s say it for what it is — the best team in regular season history here,” forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “We have a chance to do something very, very special. But it’s going to take a lot of preparation, a lot of execution.”
It’ll be the first series between the No. 1 seed and the Presidents’ winner from the previous season since the award was introduced in 1985-86.
Boston goaltender Linus Ullmark had a quick reply when asked about his team’s records.
“For us, it’s the Stanley Cup. That’s all that matters,” said Ullmark, who lead the league in wins (40), goals against average (1.89) and save percentage (.938).
“Records are meant to be broken,” he said. “But once you have the hardware, it can never be taken away from you.”
Boston’s last title came in 2011.
Bruins forward Brad Marchand left Saturday’s practice early with what Montgomery called “a little bit of soreness.” Captain Patrice Bergeron, who exited the regular-season finale with an upper-body injury, got what the coach called some “extra rest.” Ullmark left the penultimate game with soreness, but was back at practice and center David Krejci returned, too, after missing the final six games.
Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, hasn’t played since March 27 after being sidelined with a non-COVID illness. They’ve relied on a strong stretch from backup Alex Lyon.
The Panthers are one of just two teams to beat the Bruins twice this season. Ottawa, a non-playoff team, is the other. Boston was 2-1-1 against Florida.
“Every game was tight,” Montgomery said. “They’re a good hockey team.”
The Bruins had the league’s top penalty-killing unit at 87.28% and had the widest gap between any two spots, nearly 3% ahead of Carolina, which was second-best.
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Boston didn’t spend much time enjoying their success. It was quickly onto the postseason.
“We took five minutes and celebrated it and we moved on,” goalie Jeremy Swayman said after the finale. “We know there’s a bigger goal in mind.”
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