Bruins captain Brad Marchand, right, and goalie Jeremy Swayman console each other as they leave the ice after a 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series on Saturday in Boston. Florida won the series, 4-2. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

BOSTON — When the Boston Bruins steamrolled the Florida Panthers en route to a 6-1 victory in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series, it felt like a starting gun. With the Toronto roller coaster behind them, the Bruins looked poised and motivated to avenge last year’s playoff upset.

Instead, Game 1 turned out to be a wake-up call for Florida. The Panthers blasted the Bruins in Games 2 and 3, then slipped by them in Game 4. Boston was stunned and clinging to life.

Fans are understandably mad about some head-scratching officiating. While the bad calls were the salt, the Bruins created their own wound to rub it in. Florida was better in the series.

Still, the 2023-24 Bruins have the odd distinction of both exceeding and falling short of expectations.

Coming into the season, after losing so many key pieces from the 2022-23 team, making the postseason was a good goal. Winning a playoff round after failing to do so last year would have felt like solid progress.

However, after flirting with the best record in the Eastern Conference and in the NHL for much of the season, the Bruins’ second-round exit after the 2-1 loss at TD Garden on Friday night felt both early and pretty decisive.

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History will likely remember 2023-24 as a bridge year for the Bruins, a season to span the gap between last year’s devastating early exit and whatever lies ahead.

General Manager Don Sweeney built the roster knowing they had serious salary cap issues. When Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitry Orlov departed, Taylor Hall was traded, and Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retired, expectations were lowered considerably. To that end, the Bruins did very well. They were a win away from capturing the Atlantic Division title.

They signed motivated veterans – James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Shattenkirk and Milan Lucic – who they thought would fit the culture.

While Lucic’s much-anticipated return turned out badly, the other two were solid additions, each making important contributions. So were Morgan Geekie and trade deadline addition Andrew Peeke. Both look like steals after being underused by their former teams.

Rookies Justin Brazeau and Mason Lohrei both feel like lineup fixtures going forward.

But the 2023-24 team was built while adding minimal future commitments, so Sweeney can attempt a much larger overhaul this summer, when the Bruins will have much more salary cap space to work with. They’re undoubtedly headed for another offseason of seismic change as they try to pursue stars in their prime.

Matt Grzelcyk, Derek Forbort, van Riemsdyk and Shattenkirk have probably played their last games as Bruins. Free agent Jake DeBrusk could be gone, too, and the Bruins will almost certainly explore a trade involving goalie Linus Ullmark. There is money and roles available.

The Bruins have their franchise pillars in place with David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and Jeremy Swayman. Brad Marchand is still a very good player and a beloved leader. They need to add front-line pieces. Boston needs more scoring, at least one top six center, and perhaps an impact defenseman.

Whether he chooses the right pieces that fit on the ice and in the culture will ultimately define Sweeney’s tenure and determine what the next several years of Bruins hockey looks like.


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