By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
For the second straight season head coach Bruce Cassidy’s club has become red-hot when the weather in Boston grew coldest. Since the calenders flipped in each respective year, the Bruins have played like one of the best teams in the NHL, and in both cases have done so in the face of injuries that may just have taken the mojo away from weaker minded teams.
In 2018, the group that general manager Don Sweeney has rebuilt on the fly posted a 19-5-2 record in the New Year through their first two games in March. This season the bench boss the call Butch’s bunch have performed similarly, compiling a 19-3-5 mark and is currently sporting a 17 consecutive game points streak.
That’s impressive, to say the least. And it is also eerily familiar in a couple of ways.
Prior to the trade deadline last season the Black and Gold were looked upon as an upstart team that could possibly become a contender in the playoffs. Talk centered around secondary scoring and shoring up the second line by adding help from the outside.
Feeling like his team has a real shot at a Stanley Cup run last spring, Sweeney ponied up by sending his ’18 first-round pick, the legend that isn’t Ryan Spooner, the ghost of Matt Beleskey, and defensive prospect Ryan Lindgren for the then 33-year-old Rick Nash at the deadline. And while Nash never had proven himself as a playoff performer, there were signs early on that he might just fit in with veteran center David Krejci and standout rookie Jake DeBrusk.
That was until the Tampa Bay Lighting’s Cedric Paquette sent Nash to Never-Never Land with a high, hard hit. Although Nash would return to the B’s lineup for the playoffs, he was literally a shell of himself, and subsequently retired due to concussion-related issues.
Fast forward to this past February, Sweeney once again was looking to add to a team that many thought had fallen back a bit to the pack in the NHL, having not added a top-six forward to fill the scoring gap that still existed, and hoping that the solution was in his pool of yet to be proven prospects in Providence.
This time his big get at the buzzer deadline day was former New Jersey Devil/Washington Capital forward Marcus Johansson, who cost the B’s big boss a second this year and a fourth in 2020. The move was a bit of an eyebrow raiser, considering that Johansson missed the last 53 games of the season last year, due to a not so errant elbow by his now teammate Brad Marchand.
However, as happens most times in professional sports – especially hockey – both players claimed water under the bridge once Johansson became a Bruin.
Yet, in the ugliest of ironies, Johansson has been concussed again – this time on a clean hit by Carolina Hurricane’s forward Michael Ferland on Tuesday night in the first period of the Bruins 4-3 overtime win against the Canes – and he didn’t look good from Jump Street following shoulder to shoulder shot.
On Wednesday, Cassidy updated Johansson’s condition by saying he has been held at a Boston hospital overnight for observation, which can’t be a good thing for a guy with such a recent concussion history.
Granted, both after the game on Tuesday night and in his meeting with the press on Wednesday morning, Cassidy seemed upbeat about his newly acquired forward, but he still had no answer on what the injury could mean in the short term – and more importantly the long term, meaning the playoffs – this latest hit would have regarding the versatile forward’s availability to his new team.
“He’s still in the hospital finishing up tests – we’ll have an announcement later – so I haven’t heard anything yet. But…sometimes no news is good news, “ said a seemingly optimistic Cassidy on Wednesday.
For as resilient as they have been over the past two seasons, Cassidy’s crew could use a break when it comes to injury. Hopefully, the head coach is right in his optimistic approach to the latest blow his Bruins have to absorb.
Anyone who has watched this team spit in the eye of those who have doubted their status as true Stanley Cup contenders during this resurgence – this spot being one of them – knows that they deserve the best chance possible to see their hard work pay off come the NHL’s second season this spring.