Haggerty: Bruins show signs of life in first game under Cassidy

Haggerty: Bruins show signs of life in first game under Cassidy

BOSTON – It was refreshing for at least one night to see the Boston Bruins go out and do exactly what they said they were going to do.

That it happened in the very first game under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy after the firing of Claude Julien is more than a little interesting. But that’s the way it went down in a convincing 6-3 win for the B’s over the San Jose Sharks at TD Garden. The Bruins played with pace, they were noticeably aggressive in the offensive zone and the quality of shots was the best it’s been all season.


So it’s nothing to get too worked up about given that it was just one against a Sharks team that’s now lost three games in a row on a long East Coast road swing. But it’s also a very encouraging first step for a Bruins team that had consistently been less than the sum of their parts for the first 55 games of the season under Claude Julien, and needs to start showing some signs of life before anybody else is going to believe in them.

“I liked our start in terms of scoring first. I liked that we got pucks to the dirty area offensively, and we were willing to go there. [Tim] Schaller’s goal is a good example. I liked our resiliency when we got scored on; we didn’t get down, we came back and just kept playing,” said Cassidy of his first NHL win in over 13 years dating back to Dec. 2003 in his time with the Capitals. “No team is perfect so when you give up a goal, we’ve got to really avoid hanging our heads and just win the next shift and get the momentum back. I liked that we reestablished some urgency in this building. There’s a whole list of things we can go down.”

For a coach that wants to stress offensive creativity and being aggressive around the opponent’s net, Cassidy undoubtedly had plenty to like about Boston’s performance. He put together David Backes with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in a combination that hasn’t been used much this season, and all three players ended up scoring goals. Bergeron had a season high four points in the offensively vibrant victory, and authored a couple of nifty no-look dishes to David Pastrnak for a pair of power play goals.

Backes looked like the player that Boston has been looking for all season with seven shots on net and three hits to go along with his goal and three points.

But perhaps no play highlighted the way the Bruins are going to play than the first goal of the game. David Krejci was battling to control a puck in the corner on the first shift of the game, and D-man Torey Krug pinched way down low into the corner to lend some support to Krejci before gaining control of the puck. He fed it to Backes in the slot for the sniped wrist shot just 52 seconds into the game and things were off and running.

Krug and the Bruins might not fully admit it, but that kind of risk-taking and pinching down low in the defensive zone wasn’t something done very often under Julien. It looks like it will be the norm now as the Bruins attack in the offensive zone and look to create anxiety in opposing defenses when they get the chance.

“I thought there were a lot of guys that their pace was up. They were able to make a few more plays with the puck on their guys, and not letting them turn up the ice and make whatever play they wanted. That forced them into a few turnovers, kept us on the attack and in the offensive zone, and the result was we were able to score five goals, plus an empty netter,” said Backes, who finished a goal and three points along with a plus-1 rating while consistently coming up big in front of the net. “That says a lot about the pace and maybe that’s coming from practice. Maybe that’s coming from a little bit of a lull in the schedule where we had a couple days of rest and then being able to hit the ice hard for a couple days, and carry that into the game.”

So it was a good start for Cassidy and his Bruins players in their first game together with 26 more to go until the end of the regular season. They scored six goals, they put on a good show for a sparse home crowd at TD Garden thanks to the snowstorm and they played with the spark that everybody hoped to see after the coaching change.

Now they need to maintain the high level of play and keep pressing the attack like a group of desperate players fighting for their hockey lives over the next couple of months with little room for error in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Banged up B's 'look forward to the challenge' vs Tampa team they're chasing

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Banged up B's 'look forward to the challenge' vs Tampa team they're chasing

TAMPA BAY – It certainly might not be the shape they envisioned themselves being in when these late season games arrived against the President’s Trophy favorites in Tampa Bay, but the Bruins are bracing for a showdown with the high-powered Lightning either way. 

The Bruins stand just four points behind the Bolts with one game in hand, and mathematically they absolutely have a shot of catching and surpassing the Lightning for the NHL’s top spot with three games remaining against them in the season’s final month. But realistically it’s got to be considered a long shot at this point with Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk all out for Saturday night’s meeting with Tampa, and Bergeron and McAvoy expected to potentially miss all three of their divisional scraps. 

Coming off a 3-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers and at the end of a week-long, four-game road trip, the Bruins know they’re going to need to tighten things up against a Lightning team they can’t match firepower with in their weakened state. 

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of just playing the game in front of us, and not getting too far ahead, too high or too low. We’ve got the best team in the National Hockey League, arguably, at home and rested [in front of us],” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We look forward to the challenge. They’re a high-scoring team, so we talked about that with our goaltenders and our ‘D’ today. We better be ‘on’ because they’ll be coming. Our forwards are going to have to help out in that area and make sure we’re reloading well, and keep getting pucks at the net. 

“We didn’t finish [against Florida] but it wasn’t because of lack of effort or lack of pucks at the net. That part of our game is trending pretty well offensively. I think you’re going to have score to a certain extent against this team because you’re not going to shut them down completely. That’s our game plan for whoever is going to be in the lineup. They’ve got to be ready for it because that’s how it works, and that’s how it’s worked all year long for us. We need the guys in there to do their part and do it well.”

Certainly the Bruins could still do some offensive damage with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak still intact on their top line, and David Krejci and Rick Nash also still developing their chemistry on the second line. Torey Krug also came through feeling healthy at practice on Friday after soaking up 26 plus minutes of ice time in the loss to Florida, so they’ll also have some puck-moving and offensive pop on the back end as well.

But it may come down to the Chara-less defense and Tuukka Rask to step up and go into shutdown mode against the Lightning if they’re looking to really push up on the Lightning, and make this a horse race for the Atlantic Division down the stretch. Not to mention, it would be a psychological swing for both teams if the Bruins could take down a rested, relatively healthy Tampa Bay hockey club with their undermanned, injury-ravaged bunch. 

That in and of itself should be plenty of motivation for a Bruins team that’s got their sights and set on bigger and better things this spring with the Lightning expected to be one of the big obstacles standing in their way.


Morning Skate: Tavares or Seguin?

NBC Sports Boston Photo

Morning Skate: Tavares or Seguin?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while jacked and pumped about that Infinity War trailer. Wow. 


*Credit here for something outside the box and clear hockey satire while looking far into the NHL’s crystal ball where the new expansion team is called the Seattle Slippery Seals, and Brad Marchand is the head of the NHLPA. That is quite a twist at the end of the movie right there. 


*The Hockey Central crew debates whether they would want John Tavares or Tyler Seguin as a player to build their team around. Seguin is having a solid year (with the end of his contract coming into view), but I’m going with Tavares all day long. I think he’s more of a competitor and a reliable player along with an equitable level of talent, and that counts for quite a bit in team-building. 


*It’s good to see the PHWA decide to make public the ballots of all NHL Awards starting at the end of this season. It’s something I voted in favor of and already did annually as I think transparency is something we always ask for from those we cover, so it should never be something we shy away from. 


*The Flyers have hit the skids again after pushing themselves into playoff view. This has been such a streak team over the last couple of years. 


*Pro Hockey Talk says that the Montreal Canadiens need to take a long look into the mirror before they move on from this season. I couldn’t agree more. 


*For something completely different: I feel badly for my kids that Toys R us is liquidating as a company, and the stores will be closing. It’s getting to the point where there will be no more brick and mortar toy stores for kids to visit, and that’s something from my youth experience that they’re going to miss out on. Frankly, it’s kind of sad.