By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
During this two-season rise from a team who was clearly in a rebuild mode to one that is now seen considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in head coach Bruce Cassidy’s second full year behind the bench, perhaps the most constant thing throughout this rapid growth spurt has been change.
Driven largely by the fact that the injury bug has enjoyed feasting on players up and down the lineup during this time, perhaps the B’s bench boss’ biggest strength has been managing his personnel both in games and in between them.
However, in the 3-2 Game 3 loss against the Leafs in Toronto on Monday night, Cassidy’s unwillingness to break up his top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak could be listed right alongside the poor penalty killing that led to two goals in three powerplay opportunities as reason for the defeat.
“Our kill wasn’t good enough for whatever reason. We talked about it. We were a little late on one, didn’t get it cleared on the other, said Cassidy after the tough one-goal loss. And it’s not like he was thrilled with the other parts of his team’s game, either.
“Our power play, our first group was a little off. A little of out sync in their plays. I thought we had a really good chance in the third. We got the play we wanted, backdoor to Jake (DeBrusk) and for whatever reason, he wasn’t ready for it. He got knocked off stride. But, giving up two (power-play goals) most nights is a recipe for what happened tonight, a one-goal loss.”
Having been proven to be a head coach that makes in-game changes as frequently as any over his time in Boston, it was curious to see him stick with his top offensive threesome when it was clear early on that the extraordinary chemistry the arguably best line in hockey has shown over the past two seasons was nowhere to be found.
When asked if a potential reconfiguration of his top six forward mix could be in the offing, given the job that the Leafs line of John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Zach Hyman have done against Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak in the two wins this series, the man they call Bruce backed away from making any immediate changes.
“I thought we did a good job against them, they’re an offensive line as. Tavares had 47 goals, Marner’s a 100-point guy, whatever he is. And Hyman chips in, so we’ve got to be careful to keep them off the score sheet too.”
He added, “I don’t know if you’re always in a hurry to get away from something that’s kind of a see-saw battle, we have to rely on our other depth guys to score, we got that in Game 2. Tonight we got a good goal from (David Krejci), but if we feel that it’s really an impediment of us having success, then we’re going to get away from it and break up the line.”
While that might be an optimistic outlook from Cassidy, the truth is the Bruins need to do what the Leafs did to them in the two opening games of the series and come away with a split before returning home for Game 5 Friday night.
It might be easy to argue that Cassidy’s club was just one favorable bounce away from coming out with the close win on Monday – by the way, the ice at the Scotiabank Arena resembled a parking lot more than an NHL level playing surface – it is just as easy to argue that Toronto’s head coach Mike Babcock has had a better coaching performance in two of the first three games of the first round series.
Should the Bruins top-scoring line continue to struggle again in Game 4 on Wednesday night, Cassidy’s willingness to rely on flexibility he has shown that has helped to make his squad the contenders they have become before his team is facing a return flight to Boston on the wrong end of a 3-1 series deficit.
Given the unconceivable collapse that the President Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning are experiencing against the Columbus Blue Jackets, whoever comes out of this Bruins/Leafs series is likely going to be looked to be the favorite to raise Lord Stanley’s shiny goblet this June.
That, in itself, is a reason to put patience on the back burner and find out if there is a way to jump-start his group offensively before it is too late.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.