Haggerty: What other choice was there for Bruins but Cassidy?

Haggerty: What other choice was there for Bruins but Cassidy?

BRIGHTON, Mass – In the end, there wasn’t going to be any other choice than Bruce Cassidy to lead this Bruins team moving forward.

Cassidy, a Bobby Orr-worshipping Bruins fan as a kid growing up in Ottawa, was named the 28th head coach in Bruins history on Wednesday morning. He essentially locked up the job by guiding the B's to an 18-8-1 record and getting Boston into the playoffs for the first time in three years after taking over for Claude Julien on an interim basis.


The offense was opened up and more aggressive under Cassidy. Things improved dramatically on home ice, where they’d been victimized too many times over the past couple of seasons and the Black and Gold became simply fun to watch again.It could have gone wrong at several points if Cassidy weren’t the right guy, or if the Bruins core group wasn’t of playoff-worthy caliber.

They pulled out of a four-game losing streak/tailspin in the final weeks of the regular season to punch their playoff ticket and showed fight and postseason spark in battling to a double-overtime win in Game 5 against the Senators with a vastly undermanned group before falling in OT in Game 6.

Pretty much to a man the Bruins pointed to the coaching change as the turning point this season and the biggest catalyst for vaulting them back into the postseason mix.

“It was for sure something that shook up the whole team, players and the entire organization,” said Zdeno Chara. “Obviously we had a coach that had been here for 10 years, done a lot of good things, created a lot of personal relationships and was with us when we won the Stanley Cup, but I thought [Cassidy coming in] brought the true realization that we needed to be better.

“It was kind of a big wake-up call for everybody, and from that day we really started playing a little more together and getting results. We were playing in a way that was effective for us and we improved a few things systems-wise. Those worked well for us and allowed us to win some games. [Cassidy] did a great job in taking over.”

The credit there clearly goes to Cassidy for ramping things up offensively with a higher pace, more involvement from the defensemen getting aggressive and more confidence shown in young players still developing while playing in the NHL. 

The numbers didn’t lie for the Bruins when the offense went up in the post-Julien era, and the defense actually performed better under Cassidy: The Bruins ranked first in the NHL in goals per game (3.37), first in the NHL in fewest shots allowed (741), tied for second in the NHL in wins (18), tied for second in the NHL in power-play percentage (27.8), tied for third in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.30), tied for fifth in the NHL in face-off percentage (53.6) and tied for sixth in the NHL in takeaways (229).

The results were impossible to argue with and any desire to potentially open things up to other worthy candidates, such as Providence College’s Nate Leaman, became a bit of a moot point once the Bruins got back into the postseason. 

For a management tandem of Cam Neely and Don Sweeney that has struggled to get a foothold the past couple of years while teamed with a coach in Julien who didn’t quite share their same visions and philosophies, Cassidy was a like a perfect-fit hockey glove for the Black and Gold.

In a league very much geared toward youth, speed and skill, David Pastrnak busted out for 34 goals and 70 points, Brad Marchand nearly hit 40 goals for the first time in his career and Charlie McAvoy looked like the second coming of Drew Doughty in his brief first-round playoff appearance this spring.  

Once it was clear Boston’s core group of veterans also bought into Cassidy’s upfront style and aggressive on-ice system, it was clear there wasn’t much in the “cons” column when it came to Boston hiring the longtime P-Bruins head coach on a full-time basis.

“It’s always tough to lose a coach in the middle of the year, and it was my first time going through that in my pro career,” said Marchand. “I’ve seen it happen before, and it’s a tough change on the guys in the room. But Butchie [Cassidy] did a really good job. Butch, [Jay Pandolfo], Bob [Essensa] all did a really good job of working together as a unit, and not changing too much. They didn’t make it hard on us by changing the entire system and instead, they just incorporated a couple of little things that really helped us.

“It allowed us to play our game and you saw that it really worked down the stretch. It’s always tough to see your coach go, but I thought it was great to see us respond the way we did. It showed good character, and Butchie did a really good job of coming in and allowing us to really grow as a group. You look at our record, and he’s been a great coach so far. I had [Cassidy] in the minors too, and he’s a great coach.”

Now, Cassidy will get a chance to show it over the course of a few seasons at the Bruins helm with the players he helped spark this season and a whole slew of young, talented prospects that will be incorporated over the next couple of years. 

It took 13 years of AHL bus rides to places like Hershey, Pennsylvania and Lehigh Valley for Cassidy to get his second chance after flaming out in two seasons as the coach of the Washington Capitals, but the Bruins are already the beneficiaries of experience, luck and talent pushing him back into the NHL spotlight as the official guy behind the bench in Boston.  

Bruins resiliency on full display in third-period comeback vs Stars

AP Photo

Bruins resiliency on full display in third-period comeback vs Stars

GOLD STAR: Every once in a while Brad Marchand wills the Bruins to a win that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise had, and that happened again on Friday night with a three-point explosion for No. 63 in the final 20 minutes. Marchand finished with a goal and three points in 19:57 of ice time along with a plus-2 rating, and played a key role in the three-goal outburst that allowed the B’s to vanquish a 2-0 deficit. It was Marchand that opted not to shoot from the face-off dot with a look at the net in the closing seconds, and instead dropped it down low to David Pastrnak as he curled around the net and pushed a puck past Kari Lehtonen for the game-winner. Marchand finished with two shots on net, eight total shot attempts and a number of big plays in the third period redirecting pucks in close, kicking off shorthanded scoring plays and then setting up clutch game-winners in the final 15 seconds of the game. It’s the kind of night where Marchand played like an MVP even if he isn’t going to get much of a sniff at the Hart Trophy. 

BLACK EYE: Jamie Benn scored a shorthanded goal for the Dallas Stars, but he also jumped up in the air and clobbered Brad Marchand from behind with a completely unnecessary hit in the third period that went without a penalty being called. Instead it seemed to incense Marchand, who never gave up in the final sequence and ultimately fed a pass to David Pastrnak down low for the game-winner with just 11.1 seconds remaining in the game. Benn finished a minus-2 for Dallas while being on the ice for a pair of goals against, had a brutal 1-for-7 performance in the face-off dot and really acted like a punk on the play with Marchand in the third period. Benn is a better player than that and shouldn’t be resorting that level on a fellow star player like Marchand. 

TURNING POINT: Once again the Bruins really turned things around in the third period while outscoring the Stars by a 3-0 margin, and really flooding the Dallas net with 10 of their 36 shots on net for the night. It all started with a relentless shift from Boston’s top line where Riley Nash made a pass from his knees before taking a big hit, and then Brad Marchand redirected a David Pastrnak shot from the slot off his leg and into the net for Boston’s first goal. That first score finally allowed the Bruins to begin building some momentum, score each of the next two goals as the game slipped away from Dallas and once again proved themselves as a hockey club that one doesn’t ever doubt in the third period. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Tuukka Rask had a career-high 40 saves and turned away some really good looks from the Dallas offense while showing exactly what the Bruins can be capable of when their goaltending is on point. The only goals that beat Rask were a first period score with droves of traffic in front of the net, and a second period shorthanded score for Jamie Benn where he pulled one of those unconventional finishing moves on Rask at the very end. Rask made 11 saves on the Dallas power play alone during a trio of PP chances, and made a crucial leg pad save on Antoine Roussel in the third period that helped open things up for the goal-scoring outburst late in the game. Hopefully the strong, resounding performance from Rask answers some of the questions about some of his recent so-so performances between the pipes.   

BY THE NUMBERS: 29 – the number of goals this season for David Pastrnak as he readies to become only the ninth Bruins player to hit the 30-goal plateau in back-to-back seasons over the last 35 years of franchise history. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Resiliency. We didn’t want to go quietly for sure. We can live with the end result as long as we play the right way. The end result went our way again in the end, and I think that’s a credit to the guys.” –Bruce Cassidy to NESN about another comeback win for the Black and Gold.

Pastrnak scores with 12 seconds left to lift Bruins over Stars, 3-2

AP Photo

Pastrnak scores with 12 seconds left to lift Bruins over Stars, 3-2

DALLAS - David Pastrnak broke a tie with 12 seconds left and the Boston Bruins scored three straight goals in the third period to rally past the fading Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night.

A scramble followed a faceoff in the Dallas end, and Brad Marchand passed to Pastrnak in front. While falling down, he put the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.

TALKING POINTS: B's resiliency on full display vs Stars

Tuukka Rask made a season-high 40 saves for the Bruins. Marchand scored Boston's first goal and also assisted on a short-handed goal by Tim Schaller that tied it midway through the third period.

The second-place Bruins won for the first time in three games (1-0-2) to move within four points of Atlantic Division leader Tampa Bay. Boston has already clinched a playoff berth.

The Stars are winless in their last seven games (0-5-2). They remained four points behind Colorado for the second Western Conference wild card.

Dallas led 2-0 on a first-period goal by Esa Lindell and Jamie Benn's short-handed score late in the second.

In the third, Marchand tipped in a shot by Pastrnak before Schaller scored on a 2-on-1 with Marchand.

Lehtonen finished with 33 saves.

Lindell scored 2:26 into the game. Jason Dickinson tried to deflect a shot from the right point into the net but the puck went wide right. Curtis McKenzie picked it up behind the goal line and passed to Lindell high in the left faceoff circle. His wrist shot went in off Rask's right arm.

Benn missed two good scoring opportunities early in the second period, but connected at 19:22. He took a pass from Tyler Seguin at the Dallas blue line and had a breakaway when Matt Grzelcyk fell down. Benn slid a backhand under Rask.