Cassidy's return to NHL playoffs gives him chance at new legacy

Cassidy's return to NHL playoffs gives him chance at new legacy

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. 

Bruins start strong and don't look back vs Lightning

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Bruins start strong and don't look back vs Lightning

GOLD STAR: Torey Krug assisted on all three goals and finished off with a couple of strong games while stepping up in the absence of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. Clearly all of the D-men stepped up knowing that their top pairing wasn’t going to be available against the Lightning, but it was Krug at the offensive end with his three assists that put him over 50 points for the second straight season. They were big plays too, whether it was finding David Pastrnak in the slot for the first goal or firing wide of the net on the second score that David Backes pumped into the net. The third goal was once again a PP shot from the outside circle that Andrei Vasilevskiy kicked out and was eventually shot past him by Riley Nash. Pair that with a couple of hits and a blocked shot in 19:37 of ice time, and it was a full night for Krug.

BLACK EYE: Nikita Kucherov was not his MVP self in this one. Instead he managed just a single shot on net in his 18:43 of ice time, and missed the net with three other shot attempts in a harmless, invisible kind of game. Kucherov also didn’t really do much of anything else in a game where the Bruins didn’t have defensive stoppers Zdeno Chara or Patrice Bergeron, which has to start making the Lightning wonder how difficult it’s going to be for them when those two players return ahead of the postseason. The Lightning were rested and waiting for the Bruins for a couple of days and should have been at their absolute best. Kucherov was among a number of Bolts players that were far from that, including goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. 

MORE - Scary incident involving Backes

TURNING POINT: The Bruins came out of the starting gate firing and roared past the Lightning with a strong opening period. They outshot Tampa Bay by a 12-5 margin in the opening 20 minutes and didn’t even allow a single scoring chance to the Bolts while playing letter perfect hockey for pretty much the entire time. That led to a David Pastrnak goal little more than three minutes into the game, and then the Bruins doubled their lead with a power play strike midway through the game. Once the Bruins had built up a two-goal lead with the kind of strong defense that they were dealing out on Saturday night, it was going to be awfully difficult to beat them. And Tampa didn’t even come close. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Riley Nash was dropped from the top line to the third line to start the game, and responded with one of his best all-around games of the season. Nash scored on a power play strike from the slot after a big rebound bounced to him there, and that pretty much iced the game in the second period. But he was good all night with a couple of shot attempts, a couple of hits and a couple of takeaways in 18:30 of ice time, and was excellent in the face-off circle while winning 9-of-11 draws in a big performance for the Black and Gold. Nash also stepped back into his usual spots once Backes was lost to injury at the end of the first period, and resumed the kind of solid play that’s allowed him to have his best NHL season in Boston this year. 

BY THE NUMBERS: 15-6-1 – the career record for Tuukka Rask vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning after another shutout win on Saturday night. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I’ll play a second period one of these days.” –a smiling David Backes as he limped out of the visitor’s dressing room in Tampa after leaving tonight’s win over Tampa with a laceration above his right knee caused by a skate blade. Backes was also tossed from Thursday night’s game in Florida with a match penalty in the first period as well.


Bruins make a statement with 3-0 win over Lightning

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Bruins make a statement with 3-0 win over Lightning

TAMPA – The undermanned Bruins went into Saturday’s big showdown with Tampa Bay missing four of their best players, and they lost another in the game when David Backes exited after catching a skate blade above the right knee. 

MORE - A scary incident involving Backes

But as adversity hasn’t stopped the Bruins all season long, it didn’t stop them against on Saturday against the best team in the NHL. Instead it inspired them as the Bruins scored a pair of goals early and rode that fast start all the way to an impressive 3-0 victory over the Lightning at Amalie Arena. The victory closes the Bruins to within two points of the Lightning for the NHL’s top spot with two more meetings with Tampa over the season’s final dozen games. 

The Bruins scored little more than three minutes into the game when Torey Krug fed David Pastrnak cutting down the middle of the slot, and Pastrnak slid a backhanded bid underneath Andrei Vasilevskiy for his 29th goal of the season. Backes got on the board next prior to his exit from the game, and hammered a loose puck in the slot after Krug had missed wide with a point blast that rocketed off the end boards. 

Krug was at it making plays again in the second period when he fired a shot from the outside of the face-off circle that Vasilevskiy kicked into the slot area where Riley Nash corralled. Nash put it home for his 14th goal of the season, and that was enough for the Bruins to hold on for victory as the Lightning threw everything at the net in the third period looking for some offense. 

Rask was solid at that point in the game as he stopped everything in front of him and made 22 saves to add to his gaudy lifetime record against Tampa Bay over the course of his B’s career. There was no update on Backes following the game other than his laceration required “several stitches” and that he was done for the night after the incident late in the first period.