By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
The way the Bruins played the first period of their Game 5 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on Friday night told you everything you need to know about the preparation level of head coach Bruce Cassidy’s squad heading into the biggest period of play thus far for this seemingly under motivated and uninspired former group of overachievers.
If you were a casual hockey fan and you stumbled onto the B’s blasé approach to the first period-plus of the pivotal matchup at TD Garden, you may have thought you were tuning into a throwaway game in January, with both teams playing for the third time in four nights. There was little urgency, and a lot of don’t give a crap coming from the home team in black and gold.
It is one thing to throw the sticks and hats on the ice in the middle of an extraordinarily long regular season and hoping for the best, it is another thing to approach what is as close to a deciding game in the playoffs – at home, for that matter – and treating like it was just another date in a long string to get to the games that count come the NHL’s second season.
Apparently, no one in the Bruins dressing room got the memo that they are in fact in the playoffs, although that might change quickly come Easter Sunday in Toronto. And the majority of their lack of preparation and desperation falls squarely on one man’s shoulders.
For as much credit as Cassidy gets for helping turn the B’s around in his two-plus years behind the Boston bench, this first round playoffs series against the Leafs has not been his finest moment. His team entered Game 1 with pure apathy, which led to a 4-1 loss against a Toronto team who was much more engaged.
After bouncing back with a physical performance – which resulted in a 4-1 victory for the home team – Cassidy’s club once again didn’t have the edge needed when the series venue switched to Toronto in Game 3. Poor special teams play gave the Leafs a 3-2 win and once again put the Bruins backs to the wall.
For most of Game 4, it seemed as if the B’s bench boss had gotten through to his team as they looked poised to grab the Leafs by the throat following a 6-4 victory, only to no-show for most of Friday night’s folly at the Garden.
When asked about his team’s play in the pivotal matchup, Bruins winger – and leading scorer in the regular season – winger Brad Marchand was forthright. “We’ve had better games,” said the agitator turned sniper. “I don’t think either team was great, but it was the difference of one play. Game is over now, worry about the next one.”
That seemed to be the party line following the sleepy start the home team took to such a crucial spring showdown. The only problem is, the next one just might be their last.
Cassidy had similar comments when addressing whether his team could look to their effort in Game 3 as a harbinger for things to come in Game 6, the head coach said, “Is it exactly what we wanted? Did we want to…would we have rather come out and got the crowd into it with some big hits and some action around the net? Of course. That’s the game plan. It didn’t go our way that way, but I do believe the remedy is generating shots for rebounds and see if we can put them under duress in that regard.”
Here’s the rub, Cassidy’s team seems much too comfortable accepting less than 100% effort at the most crucial time of the year through the first five games of this series.
Given the number of teams who were looked upon as favorites to be top contenders for the Stanley Cup falling by the wayside early – the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Calgary Flames, just to name a few – could it be that the Bruins head coach, along with his players, are looking past what could be their biggest challenge to get to the Finals before they have even made it out of the first round of the playoffs?
Should the Bruins fall in Toronto in Game 6 – something that is looking like a probability now, instead of a possibility – the one man left to shoulder the blame for the monumental missed opportunity that this would be – given the field that will be remaining after the first round ends – is Cassidy.
At the end of the day, the greatest responsibility a head coach has is to make sure his team is ready to play when the games get big. Up until now, Cassidy’s club has shrunk when the needed to stand tall this spring.
If it turns out that the Bruins are booking tee times this time next week, the burden of the bust that would be this blown opportunity will fall on the man they call Butch.