Bruins

Bruce Cassidy shows why he's behind Bruins bench

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Bruce Cassidy shows why he's behind Bruins bench

MONTREAL – In another sign that things are definitely going the Bruins way this season, they exited Montreal with two points and good vibes after defeating their arch-rival Canadiens. Both the B’s and the Habs were a little sloppy coming off the five day byes and made their share of mistakes in Boston’s 4-3 shootout win over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Saturday night.

One thing the Bruins did well, however, was put their rookies and young players in positions to succeed in their first rivalry games against the Habs. Many of them played vital roles in getting the two points in a hostile environment against the Habs, and once again came through when given the opportunity. The win against the Canadiens exemplified exactly why Brace Cassidy is now coaching the Bruins, and it just so happened to be in his first game against former boss Claude Julien. The method and results truly illustrated how differently B’s players are being handled these days.

Young players are consistently placed into very big positions to succeed with the Black and Gold, and many of those youngsters came through in big spots in their first go-around against Montreal.

Jake DeBrusk scored a second period goal and then also rewarded Cassidy’s confidence in him by lighting the lamp as the first man in the shootout. Think about that: When would Claude have ever pointed to a fresh-faced rookie as the tone-setter in a shootout against Boston’s hated rival from Montreal? Cassidy has done it early and often with his talented rookie crop this season, and some of it is certainly due to guys like DeBrusk seemingly elevating their games in the big spots like a Bruins/Habs showdown.

“It was pretty crazy. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was pretty hostile…especially after they got that first goal,” said DeBrusk. “It was interesting and it got loud, but I like that. It brings the emotion and the energy into the game. The fans obviously don’t like us, but that makes it a fun atmosphere to play in. It was obviously nice that we got the win."

“It was kind of a choppy game on both sides and it certainly wasn’t the prettiest game we’ve ever played. But I thought we responded well when we needed to and it was really fun to play in.”

Charlie McAvoy wasn’t perfect on the night while taking a couple of penalties, including a third period tripping call where he got sucked into the kind of retaliation that always get noticed by the refs. But he also finished with a couple of assists in 21:18 of ice time, had four hits and was a plus-1 in looking completely comfortable during his first experience within the heated rivalry.

Cassidy tapped McAvoy third in the shootout after DeBrusk led the B’s off, but this time McAvoy couldn’t play the hero role as Carey Price turned away his bid. Even though he didn’t come through with some kind of dazzling move in this shootout, one can see where the new Bruins head coach helps breed confidence in his young guys.

Cassidy drops those rookies into big positions at important moments, and does so even after they’ve made a mistake or two in the game. In the past an ill-advised penalty or a bad play or two in a Bruins/Habs game could have easily turned into a seat on the pine at crunch time. It helps to have rookies that will come through in those big spots, but it also takes a head coach willing to take the heat if the faith isn’t rewarded by the kids.

“[The kids did] very well. I thought Jake gave us some good juice, Heinen  made some plays and Charlie was frustrated at times and called for it, but then he bounced right back. That’s just Charlie,” said Cassidy. “We expect that every night out of these guys, and they’ve been doing it for three months. We’ve also got other guys that can pick them up, so it’s like they have to carry the team. But they are making their contributions.”

Want a little more stark evidence of the difference between benches?

Take a look at the David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner and Matt Grzelcyk trio utilized together during the 3-on-3 overtime session. That is speed and skill to the max in all three young players, who want to play fast and make things happen in the offensive zone while pushing the gas pedal. But there are also some serious defensive zone concerns that go along with playing those three offensive players together, and it played out that way at points during the extra session where the Bruins were outshot by a 5-3 count.

It’s doubtful one would have ever seen that, even in the fast-paced 3-on-3 OT, with a coach in Julien that always requires one of his safety blanket two-way players on ice at all times. If one didn’t know any better they’d almost say that Cassidy was focused on getting good performances out of his young guys in Montreal perhaps to prove a point.

The truth is, however, that those players are now part of this Bruins team’s DNA, and they are a big part of the rolling Black and Gold success story.

The traits Cassidy showed in his first taste of the rivalry at the Bell Centre are exactly why he’s running the Bruins these days, and why they are the hottest team in the NHL with an 18-3-3 record over their last 24 games. Julien, on the other hand, has a Habs team that’s now lost six of their last eight games and continues to sink deeper in the Atlantic Division standings with a mostly stagnant offense, jittery rookie players and a group of veterans that aren’t living up to their press clipping.

Boy, that sure feels like the bad dream the Bruins finally snapped out of midway through last season and haven’t looked back since, doesn’t it? 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Krejci snaps tie late in 3rd, Bruins rally past Oilers 3-2

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Krejci snaps tie late in 3rd, Bruins rally past Oilers 3-2

David Krejci broke a tie with 1:04 remaining and the Boston Bruins rallied for three goals in the third period to beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Tuesday night.

Noel Acciari and Matt Grzelcyk also scored for the Bruins (37-13-8), who have won seven of nine and are one point back of Tampa Bay for first place in the Atlantic Division and overall NHL standings.

Ryan Strome and Jujhar Khaira had the goals for the Oilers (24-31-4), who have lost seven of eight.

The Oilers scored the game's first goal with 1:31 left in the opening period - despite being outshot 13-2 to that point - when Strome beat Boston goalie Anton Khudobin on a 2-on-1 break for his ninth of the season.

The Bruins came close five minutes into the second when David Pastrnak's shot clanged off the post behind Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot, but instead the Oilers extended their lead just more than six minutes later when a knuckler by Khaira beat Khudobin up high.

The shots favored the Bruins 29-14 through 40 minutes.

Boston got on the board 4:37 into the third when Acciari swung a puck in front of the Edmonton net and it bounced off Strome and in to make it 2-1.

The Bruins tied it with eight minutes to play after a flurry in front led to Grzelcyk putting the puck past a diving Talbot.

Boston completed the comeback with just 64 seconds to play in the third, after the Oilers lost control of the puck in their own end. Danton Heinen sent the puck out in front, allowing Krejci to score his 11th of the season.

NOTES: It was the second and final meeting this season between the teams. The Oilers took the first game 4-2 in Boston on Nov. 26. ... Oilers defenseman Kris Russellplayed his 700th NHL game. ... The Bruins acquired D Nick Holden from the New York Rangers for minor league defenseman Rob O'Gara and their third-round pick in this year's draft. Holden was not in Edmonton in time for the game.

UP NEXT

Bruins: Saturday at Toronto.

Oilers: Host the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.

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Talking points: Noel Acciari's goal helps inspire comeback

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Talking points: Noel Acciari's goal helps inspire comeback

GOLD STAR: Zdeno Chara didn’t factor into the scoring for the Bruins, but the 6-foot-9, 40-year-old captain was massive against the Oilers in his role as a shutdown performer. Chara was locked up with Connor McDavid throughout the 60 minutes of regulation play, and it was that constant attention being paid by Big Zee that helped keep the Edmonton wunderkind under wraps with just a couple of shots on net. Above and beyond the simple, vital defensive shutdown work for the Bruins that goes without saying, Chara set the tone physically as well with team-highs in registered hits (five) and blocked shots (five) in his 22:39 of ice time. He finished a plus-1, wasn’t scored on and instead continued to draw energy and enthusiasm doing his defensive work even though it was the second end of a back-to-back fairly late in the season. 

BLACK EYE: Leon Draisaitl had to know that he was in for a battle against the Bruins based on their center strength down the middle, and he clearly came up on the short end of the stick along with his Oilers. Draisaitl finished with no shots on net, a couple of giveaways and not much else going on aside from going 12-for-26 in a face-off performance that wasn’t very good either. Draisaitl is counted on to be a big time player for the Oilers and team with Connor McDavid as a 1-2 punch carrying them on offense when things aren’t going well. That didn’t happen with Edmonton’s German import and the rest of an Oilers group. Once again, they fell short after building up and holding a two-goal lead for most of the game. Things would have been much better for the Oil if Draisaitl could have finished off an offensive play or two on an evening where it was all hands on deck against the Bruins. 

TURNING POINT: It was all about Noel Acciari finally breaking through in the third period with his high effort goal, and that stirred everything else into gear as everybody suddenly started believing in the comeback. That turned into three unanswered goals in the third period that led the Bruins to the two points. Acciari motored down the wing, fired a shot at the net and gathered his own rebound behind the net before wrapping it inside the post on the opposite side for his first score in a while since battling injuries over the last few weeks. That bit of fourth line opportunistic offense really started things percolating with the Bruins offense, and led to a couple more goals from a Boston bunch that refused to lose once again.  

HONORABLE MENTION: Give it up for David Krejci stepping up in the final minutes and scoring the game-winning goal as he stepped up to finish off a great play that started with both Danton Heinen and David Backes. Krejci finished with a goal in 17:23 of ice time, three shots on net, a registered hit and 8-of-13 face-off wins in a solid night, but he really seemed to flourish when Bruce Cassidy switched him out with Riley Nash for a bit of a third period spark. That’s when Backes and Heinen responded to playing with No. 46, and ultimately teamed up for the game-winner after Nash had set up the game-tying goal with his new linemates in Jake DeBrusk and Ryan Spooner. Take a bow for those line changes in the third period down by a couple of goals, Bruce Cassidy!

BY THE NUMBERS: 142 – the fewest goals allowed in the NHL this season is something proudly carried around this season, and it’s really not even close with Nashville as the next team with 154 goals allowed this season. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We’ll have to see how quickly he really adapts to our system, and then go from there.” –Bruce Cassidy to reporters in Edmonton, when asking how long it will be for newly traded D-man Nick Holden to get in the lineup for the Bruins.