BOSTON – It’s so far, so good, two games into the Bruce Cassidy Era with the Bruins.
Boston’s 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden wasn’t quite as impressive, obviously, as the initial game when the Bruins pounded the San Jose Sharks while scoring six goals in the process.
- Highlights: Boston Bruins 4, Vancouver Canucks 3
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- Bruins edge Canucks 4-3 to improve to 2-0 under Cassidy
But the Bruins showed good resolve after taking a pretty good punch from the Canucks in the second period while getting outshot 15-3 and giving up a tying goal with just 0.6 seconds left. It was a spot where the Bruins stopped skating and lost their aggressiveness, and where Cassidy thought they deserved a little damage after veering too far away from the game plan while playing tentatively all over the ice.
“We almost needed to get scored on [in the second period] because we became disrespectful to the game, I thought. We weren’t managing pucks, we were circling and not making the easy plays," Cassidy said. "So, if you win, you hope you learn some of those lessons throughout the course of the game and hope you don’t learn too hard of a lesson that costs you the game.
“But we bounced back very well, just like the goal in the third, the PK goal, we kept playing, we didn’t sort of sit back and say ‘maybe we’ll get this thing to overtime if we’re lucky.’ We kept playing, we wanted to score the next goal and that’s a credit to the group and the leadership in there to keep the guys focused on going forward and not looking back.”
In essence, Cassidy said that his Bruins played to win in the third period rather than playing not to lose, and they managed to score a couple of goals to make certain they got the two points in regulation. It served as a good lesson for a team that too many times buckled under adversity in the recent past, or deviated from their game plan to simply play it safe and conservative in the third period.
In many ways, Cassidy has been trying to change the way Bruins players think situationally in many aspects of the game. That was one of the lessons from a victory they had to grind for to earn on Saturday.
The game ended on a David Krejci cross-ice stretch pass to David Pastrnak for the game-winner in the closing minutes of the third period. The 20-year-old Czech winger appreciated that the Black and Gold weren’t simply playing for overtime.
“They tied it [in the second period]. They didn’t get the go-ahead goal, so the win was still 50-50,” said Pastrnak, whose goal was his 25th of the season and his 100th career NHL point. “It’s great we didn’t sit back, and we went after it. We had a couple good shifts after the goal and it went in for us and it was great.”
Clearly, the push by the Bruins to win it in the third period was noticeable. The aggressive offensive tweaks pushing the D-men to the rush paid dividends with a pair of goals from the back end. There are things on the ice that the Bruins are doing differently, and some would say better, under Cassidy while winning each of the last two games.
There will also be times when the aggressive approach will backfire and turn into mistakes at the wrong time. There will undoubtedly need to be a balance that’s reached between risk-taking and picking the proper spots. But even the line changes are working since Cassidy tweaked things up front as well.
Installing David Backes with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand got goals from all three players in the win over San Jose, and a third line of young, offensive-minded players in Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes set up a pair of goals in the one-goal victory.
Vatrano, Spooner and Hayes is the kind of combination that Claude Julien simply wouldn’t, or couldn’t, go with because the longtime B’s bench boss felt there were too many potential liabilities defensively with three forwards that think offense-first. But it paid dividends on Saturday afternoon, where the B’s third line won a game for them for one of the first times this season when it had been “top six or bust” for most of the year.
“We played with a lot of speed and a lot of pace, and I think that helps us a lot. We kind of talked about it. I felt, in the last game, we were kind of staying to the outside, and we had to get some pucks to the net, and we did that, and we scored. So that’s good,” said Spooner, who fed Kevan Miller with a cross-ice dish in transition for Boston’s first goal. “I think with our team now, we’ve got  games left, it’s going to be about being more of a consistent team. I think if we can do that, we should be fine.”
Consistently scoring goals and playing well on home ice have been big issues with the Black and Gold for most of this season. They’re now 2-0-0 at home under Cassidy while having scoring a combined 10 goals in those two games. The early returns have been good, but the Bruins now they have their stiffest test on Sunday night against the arch-rival Montreal Canadiens, who would love to kick the Bruins back down a few notches. Fortunately for the B’s, the Habs have their own problems right now. They're 3-5-2 in their past 10 games while scrambling to find their own top level of play.
“I’m going to leave that up to you guys [in the media],” said Krejci, when asked the biggest differences between Julien and Cassidy behind the bench. “It’s been two games, but it’s been good. So let’s keep it going. We do have different lines and we’ve kind of balanced the scoring a little bit more, but it’s only been two games.”
Well, if Krejci is looking for this humble hockey writer’s opinion, here it is: The early returns are in and very good for Cassidy and a Bruins team playing faster, more aggressive and more decisive offensively at a time when they clearly needed something different if the outcome was going to be any better at the end of the season.