by Eric Fulton
Yet another team with a historic regular season does not end that season as the champion of its league. By now, all sports fans should know that the regular season and the playoffs are not the same. The 2022-2023 Boston Bruins completed the greatest regular season in the history of the National Hockey League. They won 65 games during the regular season for a total of 177 points. They were the only team to have a goal differential of over 100 (+128 with the next closest team: Dallas Stars having 67). Of the Bruins’ 65 wins, 54 came in regulation.
So, what exactly went wrong for the Bruins to have a historic regular season and not be able to get out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs? While some picked Boston to win it all, recent history has shown that the best team in the regular season does not end up winning hockey’s ultimate prize. The Bruins’ opponent in the first round, the Florida Panthers, made the playoffs in the 81st game of the season as the last spot in the Eastern Conference. The fact that Boston was hardly tested throughout the regular season on its way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs whereas Florida was in playoff mode late in the regular season may have played an impact in the historic loss.
The historic Bruins regular season was led by all-star forward David Pastrnak. Pastrnak led the team in goals, assists and points (61 goals, 52 assists, 113 points), has been one of the best players in the NHL the last few years and is also a finalist for the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP). Emotionally, Boston is led by two veteran leaders, Brad Marchand and team captain Patrice Bergeron. Both players were a key part of the team’s 2011 Stanley Cup championship run and were also a part of the 2013 and 2019 teams that made the Stanley Cup Final. In goal, Linus Ullmark had a career year as the main starting goaltender. Ullmark won 40 games for Boston, with a 1.89 goals against average, and a .938 save percentage. Backup goalie Jeremy Swayman won 24 games and had more shutouts than Ullmark (4 for Swayman, 2 for Ullmark).
It seemed like the first round would be good for Boston, but when you do not have many meaningful games to play late in the regular season, the focus of the team can be off. Injuries were also a factor, including Bergeron, who missed three games of the series against the Panthers. It also did not help having the backup goaltender start in game 7 as Ullmark did not play in the winner take all game. The Bruins did have a chance to eliminate the Panthers in at least five games with a 3-1 series lead. Florida finished 43 points behind Boston in the regular season point standings. That was the second-largest point differential in a series upset behind the 1982 Los Angeles Kings, who upset the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers (Edmonton had a 48-point lead over Los Angeles at the time of that series).
Prior to the Bruins’ first-round collapse was another historic regular season team that surprisingly lost in the first round. The 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning dominated the NHL regular season winning 62 games, which was the NHL record before Boston broke it this season. Unfortunately, the Lightning became the first Presidents’ Trophy winner to get swept in the first round of the playoffs when they lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Lightning would recover from that abrupt end by participating in three straight Stanley Cup Finals, winning back-to-back in 2020 and 2021.
I don’t know if the Bruins will accomplish that feat. There is a possibility that Bergeron will retire and the question as to whether or not Ullmark can be a consistent number one goaltender. While the 2019 Lightning collapse was historic, what can we say about this collapse by the 2023 Bruins if the team they lost to makes it to the Stanley Cup Final and win? As of the publication of this article, the Panthers are one win away from making the Final. Maybe this year’s Bruins could be the ultimate regular season disappointment in terms of having a historic regular season, only to lose it unexpectedly. No matter how the rest of the playoffs pan out, Bruins players, coaches and fans have got to be asking, “What if?”
by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
The 2023 Sports Emmy Awards (44th annual) will be held on Monday, May 22 in New York City. There are 47 categories in total, but Eric Fulton and I are going to pick our winners in what we consider to be eight of the night’s biggest categories.
Julian: Inside the NBA (TNT)
The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch wrote a year or two ago that TNT’s “Inside the NBA” studio show should be inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame and he’s absolutely right. The term G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) gets bandied about a lot in the sports world, but “Inside the NBA” is the absolute G.O.A.T. of sports programming. The thing is, it might not be the most knowledgeable program on the game of basketball, but few who watch it really seem to care because it’s so entertaining, especially almost any time Charles Barkley opens his mouth. And the show’s ringleader Ernie Johnson Jr. is one of the all-time best to ever do what he does. TNT’s “Inside the NBA” is the biggest reason I wish the league would give the NBA Finals to TNT over ABC.
Eric: Inside the NBA (TNT)
It is still a shame that TNT does not have coverage of the NBA Finals. Imagine what “Inside the NBA” would be like after every NBA Finals game. That’s how good the show really is every single week. To me, "Inside the NBA” has become the gold standard of what every pre-game and post-game should be. The competition is not even close.
Julian: MLB Tonight (MLB Network)
Here’s the thing – I can’t watch MLB Tonight anymore. My television provider YouTubeTV lost MLB Network due to a carriage dispute shortly before the 2023 Major League Baseball season began and it hasn’t come back yet and honestly, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to. I miss MLB Tonight, which was the most knowledgeable and interesting of any of the sport-specific broadcasts on television – now full bias showing I am a baseball fan over any other sport. Eric is absolutely right about ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” though. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon are still at the top of their games more than two decades later.
Eric: Pardon the Interruption (ESPN)
One of the best sports shows on television for over 20 years, “Pardon the Interruption” has been one of ESPN’s true sports daily shows. Hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon provide true sports commentary with loads of comedy. It’s a very nice show leading into the early evening “SportsCenter.”
Eric: Kenny Albert (Fox/FS1/NBC/TNT/TBS)
Kenny Albert may not be everyone’s favorite play-by-play announcer, but the fact he does cover NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL for multiple networks is outstanding. Sometimes, he is in two different places on consecutive days calling different sporting events. Albert is a rare announcer who can indeed cover every single ground and not feel like a homer when calling the games.
Julian: Mike Breen (ESPN/ABC)
I prefer almost everything about TNT’s NBA coverage to ESPN/ABC’s, but I have to hand it to ESPN/ABC play-by-play announcer Mike Breen that he’s probably the best in the business. No disrespect meant toward TNT’s Kevin Harlan, who’s also really good. But I absolutely can’t stand ESPN/NBA color commentator Jeff Van Gundy and while Mark Jackson, the other analyst for the network, isn’t nearly as annoying as Van Gundy, he doesn’t do much to make me enjoy the broadcast. So, you know Breen has to be pretty impressive to make me choose him here when I believe the overall product of the NBA on his network is lacking compared to others.
Julian: Scott Van Pelt (ESPN)
The best sports show moment I saw on television in all of 2022 had nothing to do with sports at all. It was Scott Van Pelt paying tribute to his family’s dog Otis. It was one of the most emotional and brilliantly written monologues I’ve ever had the privilege to see and showed everything about the type of man Van Pelt is. When he’s not making us cry with stories about his dog he’s frequently making us laugh with his anchoring of “SportsCenter.” I think he may have made a decent comedian. His personality is effervescent and you really just want to hang with him for an hour – no matter the night’s biggest subjects.
Eric: Scott Van Pelt (ESPN)
The early late edition of “SportsCenter” is ESPN’s most important show. Having someone like Scott Van Pelt is valuable to the franchise. For the past several years, Van Pelt has been doing the show solo but has really thrived on his own. He deserves this Emmy just for doing such a great job and still making “SportsCenter” relevant.
Eric: Charles Barkley (TNT)
No matter how right or wrong he can be, anytime Charles Barkley speaks, people listen. To me, he can be outspoken, but it is real and authentic. I just enjoy him talking about the game of basketball or just anything about life because you just never know what he is going to say.
Julian: Ryan Clark (ESPN/ESPN2/ABC)
Charles Barkley is the greatest studio analyst in the history of sports broadcasting and if he won this award every year you wouldn’t get an argument from me. If you wanted to give it to him and his Inside the NBA cohorts Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal as a three-way tie I also wouldn’t mind. There’s no unworthy nominee in this category, which also includes legends in ESPN’s Jay Bilas and MLB Network’s Tom Verducci, as well as Nate Burleson with CBS who’s always fun to watch. But I think Ryan Clark wrapped this one up the night that Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a life-threatening injury on the field during a late-season NFL game between Buffalo and Cincinnati. The game would end up canceled and it left ESPN with hours to fill about a tricky subject. Clark, who suffered multiple serious health events during his NFL career, was the best person to speak on such a dramatic topic and he absolutely owned the screen that night.
Eric: Peyton Manning (ESPN/ESPN+)
Peyton Manning was born to become an analyst once his football career ended. His “Peyton’s Places” series on ESPN+ is tremendous. Peyton, alongside his brother, Eli has done a great job with the “Monday Night Football” alternate broadcast where they talk with celebrities and current and former NFL players.
Julian: John Smoltz (Fox/FS1)
I understand that John Smoltz isn’t very popular among many baseball fans – Twitter is honestly the only reason I know this – but I’ve always found him to be a very knowledgeable and smart broadcaster. He should be as a Hall of Fame pitcher for so many years. I honestly just don’t have many nominees in this category I enjoy. Cris Collinsworth (NBC) annoys me, I don’t watch enough college football to know Gary Danielson (CBS) well and I loathe Peyton Manning’s (ESPN) personality. I’ve always enjoyed Bill Raftery’s March Madness work with CBS and the Turner networks and this would make a great retirement gift for him, but I’ve got to go with the sport I watch the most and Smoltz is lightyears better than the Fox MLB analysts that came before him.
Eric: Greg Olson (Fox)
Greg Olson, a former NFL All-Pro tight end, has seen it all during his great career. Now he has become one of the best NFL analysts on television. Paired with Kevin Burkhardt, the top NFL on FOX broadcast team has incredible talent and chemistry between the two. They called a great Super Bowl together in February and look like they will be best team for a long time (IF Tom Brady backs out of his deal).
Julian: Greg Olson (Fox)
I actually don’t think this is a necessary award, and I believe it’s new, but as long as it’s a category I think the obvious choice is Fox NFL lead analyst Greg Olson. In such a short amount of time, Olson has already become the NFL’s best lead analyst, though all it really takes is being less annoying than Tony Romo (CBS) and Cris Collinsworth (NBC). I guess Troy Aikman (ESPN) is still around, but I don’t have time for Monday Night Football. With the love of all things Manning by those within sports, I suspect Eli Manning is going to win this honor.
Julian: Tom Rinaldi (Fox/FS1)
I’ve long admired Tom Rinaldi’s work for many years while he was at ESPN and over the last few years since moving over to Fox Sports. Rinaldi does the kind of investigative, in-depth reporting that I love as a journalism nerd. One of the best sports products I consumed in 2022 was Rinaldi’s eight-part podcast series “Wesley,” based on the life and death of Lyman Bostock, the only Major League Baseball player to ever be murdered during a season. I highly recommend checking it out.
Eric: Holly Rowe (ESPN/ESPN2/ABC)
Holly Rowe has been an excellent reporter for ESPN for over 10 years. She has been doing women’s sports from the WNBA to women’s college sports. Her resume has now been added to college football on the week’s biggest game. EF
Let us know in the comments below who your choices would be!