There are plenty of iconic moments in Bruins postseason history. Tim Thomas’ stick save on Steve Downie and Bobby Orr’s display of aviation have been replayed thousands of times.
Here’s another that’s far less sexy and will never be seen on a highlight reel: The moment Claude Julien decided to make a super-pairing.
Down 2-0 to the Canadiens in the first round of the 2011 playoffs (then known as the Eastern Conference quarterfinals), Julien opted to throw balance out the window by moving Dennis Seidenberg from the left side of the second pair to Zdeno Chara’s right on the top pair. That meant Andrew Ference was elevated to the second pairing to play with Johnny Boychuk, while trade deadline bust Tomas Kaberle would skate with Adam McQuaid.
The rest is history, and it’s a good example of how important coaching can be in the postseason.
Entering his first postseason as Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy is back in the playoffs after a 13-year stretch. His only postseason head-coaching experience in the NHL came in the 2002-03 season, when the Capitals blew a 2-0 series lead and were eliminated in six games by the Lightning. Tampa, the No. 3 seed, had finished the regular season with just one more point in the standings than the sixth-ranked Capitals, so there is something of a comparison to be made to the regular-season results of the Senators (98 points) and the Bruins (95).
Cassidy saw an offensively strong team (11th in goals per game, led by Jaromir Jagr) take a 2-0 series lead with road wins in Games 1 and 2. Olaf Kolzig blanked Tampa to open the series, with Jagr turning in a four-point performance in a 6-3 Game 2 win.
Game 3 proved pivotal, as the teams skated to a 3-3 tie in regulation, leading to an overtime that would determine whether the series was all but over at 3-0 or still close at 2-1.
Then Jagr took a roughing penalty 1:18 into overtime and Ken Klee elbowed Dave Andreychuk 54 seconds into Tampa’s power play. That gave the Lightning a 5-on-3, with Vincent Lecavalier scoring 17 seconds into it to bring the Lightning within a game.
Tampa would hold Cassidy’s Capitals to one goal in both Games 4 and 5, winning both in close games to take a 3-2 series lead over Washington. They eliminated the Caps in Game 6, with Martin St. Louis scoring a power play goal in triple overtime to give Tampa a 2-1 win.
In the meantime, the Bruins had plenty of their own playoff experience with Julien, who went 57-40 in the postseason in Boston with one Stanley Cup and two appearances in the Final.
Right off the bat, Cassidy could imployeone strategy that Julien did not in Boston’s recent heyday. Julien was known for putting young inexperienced defensemen on the top pair with Chara (Steven Kampfer, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, Zach Trotman), but this was an exercise that typically occurred solely in the regular season. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Julien would look to shelter his inexperienced defensemen rather than expose them to other team’s top players.
Cassidy might do it this postseason if he skates Charlie McAvoy alongside Chara. That could depend on whether Guy Boucher goes with a loaded top line of Kyle Turris between Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone (in which case Cassidy should take McAvoy off the top pair) or has his top offensive players spread out, in which case McAvoy might be able to skate with Chara against lesser competition.
Heading into the series, it appears Boucher will split up Turris, Hoffman and Stone. As of Tuesday, Turris was centering Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan, while Hoffman and Stone were skating on the second line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
So perhaps Cassidy, who told reporters Wednesday his D pairs could be fluid after putting McAvoy with Kevan Miller in morning skate, will do a rather un-Julien thing by playing his most inexperienced defenseman with his best defenseman.
Unlike Julien in his last postseason in Boston (2013-14), Cassidy doesn’t have major expectations. The Bruins may be favored by Vegas to beat Ottawa, but the injuries on Boston's roster, led by Torey Krug, means fans shouldn’t have designs on a Cup.
This is the start of Cassidy’s playoff legacy in Boston. Should he stay on as coach after the season, he should have more chances as Boston looks to return to being realistic contenders. For now, a series win would be nice.