By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
With the 4-0 shutout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Garden on Tuesday night, the Bruins finally shed the monkey that was two consecutive seasons of choking down the stretch, and missing the playoffs because of their collapse.
Of course, the night was not all unicorns and show ponies, as their resident pest-turned-sniper Brad Marchand, once more had his career season marred by a dirty/selfish stick to the groin of Bolts’ defenseman Jake Dotchin. For the second time in less than three months (He slewfoot/tripped Niklas Kronwall on 1/24 and was fined $10,000 for it.) he has caught the attention of the NHL’s Players Safety office, proving once again that this rat will never change his whiskers.
And despite losing their best goal scorer and one of their finest penalty killers in one of the biggest games of the year, the resilient Bruins rebounded and rode a suddenly revitalized Tuukka Rask to officially claim a spot in hockey’s second season.
Undoubtedly, the rest of the hockey world will focus on Marchand’s dastardly deed – and rightfully so, if he wore a bleu, blanc and rouge sweater instead of one that is black and gold, Bruins’ fans all across New England would be burning him in effigy – a story that is perhaps not getting the attention it deserves is playing out for the rest of the league to see.
What interim head coach Bruce Cassidy has done with this obviously flawed Bruins team is nothing short of miraculous. Whether he sold his soul to the devil to make sure his second – and perhaps last, if he was a failure – chance at being a bench boss in the NHL, or he was simply seen as the anti-Claude Julien by the boys in the room; the 180-degree turnaround that has taken place with the Bruins team is a feel-good story that everyone in B’s Nation so desperately craved.
The Bruins are 18-7 under the man they call Butch, which is an otherworldly .720 winning percentage. While they haven’t been perfect – the four-game losing streak prior to their current six-game winning streak had almost everyone wondering if the genie had lost his magic touch – they have been relevant again.
Whereas watching the uninspired way Julien’s teams would play for long stretches at a time over the past two seasons had become nails down a chalk board for B’s fans; the Cassidy coach Bruins have played nearly every night with a fight and a tenacity that had simply gone missing under Claude. Plainly put, Julien’s vaunted system is boring hockey, and although they won’t say it publicly; it is likely that veterans and young players alike began to tune out their automaton-like former head coach.
While Cassidy hasn’t exactly installed a shinny hockey style system since he took over in early February; it is clearly evident that he is more willing to let his players play to their strengths, and the results speak for themselves.
What he has done is set up the Bruins for a perfect scenario entering the playoffs, something few thought possible just six weeks ago. He has taken a team that is chock-full of young, inexperienced players; and led them through a fight for a playoff berth down the stretch, and now will have much of his roster exposed to post-season play for the first time in their young careers.
Players like David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano, Brandon Carlo and Colin Miller will gain invaluable experience no matter how far the B’s run lasts in the playoffs. It is an ideal situation for guys who are looked upon as vital building blocks to the next Stanley Cup contending Bruins club.
For the record, there is no way this team would be in this position under Claude Julien, in my opinion. It was clear following the 2014/15 season that Julien’s time with the B’s had run its course. Coming off a President Cup winning campaign the season before – granted, key pieces such as Jarome Iginla and Johnny Boychuk were no longer wearing Bruins’ sweaters – the debacle that year became was clear evidence that it was time to go in another direction behind the bench for this organization.
And while the timing of the coaching change can be debated until the cows come home, the fact of the matter is the results under Cassidy had been better than even the Bruins brass could have hoped for.
Make no mistake, it is more likely or not that the B’s are a one and done come playoff time. Nevertheless, there is not post-season tournament in professional sports that has more upsets than those that take place in the NHL’s second season. Given the play of his team since he took over, and the confidence he has installed in his players; Bruce Cassidy’s squad has as good a chance as any to write a Cinderella story this spring.
Maybe it is time general manager Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely remove the interim tag from the guy who saved their season – not to mention their hides – after all.