Bruce Cassidy

Talking points: Jake DeBrusk graduates from rookie to clutch performer

Talking points: Jake DeBrusk graduates from rookie to clutch performer

GOLD STAR: The Bruins needed somebody to step up aside from their top trio of forwards, and Jake DeBrusk did exactly that in a huge Game 7 moment for the Black and Gold. DeBrusk scored two goals in the do-or-die playoff game including a power play goal to open up the scoring, and the game-winning goal in the third period where he powered to the net through Jake Gardiner before sliding a shot through Frederik Andersen. DeBrusk finished with five goals and seven points in the seven game series, had five shots on net in Wednesday night’s decisive Game 7 and was the best player on the ice for either team in the series’ most important game. DeBrusk may still be a rookie in name, but he’s graduated to formidable big game player in these playoffs. 

BLACK EYE: Jake Gardiner finished with a minus-5 for the game, and was brutally bad for the Maple Leafs. This was always the glaring weakness for the Leafs on their back end and it finally showed in Game 7 with so many other moving parts flying around. Gardiner didn’t block any shots and had a couple of giveaways in his 24:01 of ice time, and his play on the game-winning goal for DeBrusk was the perfect example of his rough night. DeBrusk got Gardiner all turned around as he attacked on the right wing with speed, and powered his way to the net while releasing a shot as the Leafs D-man couldn’t eliminate him from the play. At the moment of truth, it was a young Bruins forward overpowering a veteran Leafs D-man for the game-winner, and it’s exactly how the series played out in the moments where the Bruins had the upper hand. 

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TURNING POINT: Clearly it was coming out for the third period where the Bruins have been big winners all season. The Bruins scored just 1:10 into the third period to tie up the game on a Torey Krug bomb from the point, and they didn’t allow a single shot on net in the first 10 minutes of the third period while protecting a goalie with a fragile level of confidence in his own game. Clearly the Bruins decided to put the clamps down at the right time, and eventually Jake DeBrusk busted through for the game-winner while powering through the Leafs defense for his second score of the game. In all the Bruins outshot the Leafs 11-8 in the third period, but truly controlled the final 20 minutes of play while scoring four unanswered goals against a stunned Leafs team. For the second straight Game 7 between these two teams, the third period was a house of horrors for Toronto. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Patrice Bergeron is the kind of player that lives for the Game 7 moments, and he did exactly that once again for the Bruins. It was Bergeron that finished with a goal and three points, a plus-2 in 19:36 of ice time and won 14-of-22 face-offs while playing strong through injury. Bergeron scored his first goal of the series in the big Game 7 moment, and he finished with four shot attempts, one hit, two takeaways and a blocked shot in his night’s work while filling up the box score like he always does. Even better all three members of the Bruins top line scored in the game after being held down in each of the three losses in the series, showing they were ready to show up and play big at the biggest moment in a Game 7. 

BY THE NUMBERS: 9 – the number of points for Torey Krug at the end of the seven game series after scoring a big game-tying third period goal in Game 7. The nine points leads the field of all NHL defensemen after the first round of the playoffs.  

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Toronto did a good job with them. They got frustrated a few times, but they stuck with the program. Even the games they’ve been quiet in terms of stats on the sheet, they’ve been generating. So, that was asked this morning: Are they getting frustrated? I think there’s always a certain level of that when you’re used to getting production, and they got it back tonight.” –Bruce Cassidy, on his top line’s ability to stick with the program, and come through in Game 7, even as they were getting frustrated later in the series.

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Charlie McAvoy admits 'it's been a battle' trying to find his game in playoffs

Charlie McAvoy admits 'it's been a battle' trying to find his game in playoffs

BRIGHTON, Mass – Clearly there are a couple of Bruins players in the first round series that aren’t quite playing like themselves. 

Patrice Bergeron is definitely one of them after returning from missing Game 4 with an upper body injury, and it would seem that the injury is still affecting him even though he’s still been a pretty decent version of himself. Another of those players is 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy, who simply isn’t the same player he was for long stretches of this regular season or last spring’s playoffs when he averaged 26 plus minutes per game for the Bruins. 

McAvoy has just a single assist along with a plus-2 rating and five shots on net in the six games against the Leafs, and it’s clear at times that he’s struggled to move the puck with the same confidence and assertiveness that he did during the regular season. The lethal first passes to kick start offense haven’t been there and the willingness to carry the puck on his own hasn’t been much of a factor either as he’s quickly getting the puck off his stick.

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That’s not like McAvoy at all, and his coach admitted as much on the day leading up to the winner-take-all Game 7.

“I can’t sit here and say physically that he’s impeded right now,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I believe that coming into a playoff series after having not played, you’re playing a little bit of catch-up and he’s still doing that. I don’t think he’s playing with as much confidence as he did last year, obviously, and we have to get him back to that place. He’s a young guy and it doesn’t happen overnight, but sometimes the best message for those young guys is to simplify it, make the easy play and don’t try to do too much.”

McAvoy has insisted, however, that there aren’t any health issues with his left knee after returning from the sprained MCL. Instead McAvoy said he couldn’t get up to speed in the handful of games he played after returning from injury, and the Stanley Cup playoffs is not one of those times when a rookie is going to be able to play catch-up. 

I feel good. That’s the thing. I feel good and I need to just continue to play simple hockey, get my feet moving and do the things that I can to help us come out on top. There are ups and downs, and I knew it was going to be like that coming back [from an injury]. There are times of frustration, and times where you want to make more of an impact. You want to make the plays you were making before you got hurt,” said McAvoy. “But there’s no sense in having that mindset. Medically I’m cleared and I’m good to go, and I want to impact this team. I want to do everything I can to help us win this [Game 7]. 

“This whole series I’ve been trying to play my best hockey and there have been ups and downs. There have been good moments and there’s been bad moments. I thought I was getting my legs going in [Game 6] and starting to move the puck well, and being more decisive. Those are the little things I do so well, but it’s been a battle trying to find my game after coming back and just getting a couple of regular season games. I know these guys have my back, they always do and they always will.”

If McAvoy is indeed healthy and simply looking to find the range with his confidence and puck-moving game, then tapping into it for a big Game 7 performance would be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Black and Gold.

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Younger Bruins ready to follow the lead of vets with Game 7 experience

Younger Bruins ready to follow the lead of vets with Game 7 experience

BRIGHTON, Mass – To hear David Backes tell it, a Game 7 is a completely different animal.

“I liken it to almost a 60-minute overtime intensity kind of game. Playoffs are a notch up and a Game 7 is another notch up where every play is magnified and every hit matters,” said Backes, who was on the winning side of a pair of Game 7s in the St. Louis run to the conference finals in 2015-16. “Every puck needs to get in and every shot needs to get blocked with all of our bodies in front.”

It’s something that young hockey players dream about growing up with game-winning goals scored in their driveways and those scenarios dancing through their heads along with the imaginary adulation and visualized glory.

That’s the message that Bruce Cassidy was trying to get across to his team prior to a pressure-packed Wednesday night Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden that will decide who faces Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup playoffs second round.

Certainly, there's a lot on the line for the Bruins and Leafs, but it’s also the kind of big stage any athlete worth their salt fully embraces.  

“Game 7, they talk about pressure versus embracing the moment. Pressure to me is [Monday] in Toronto with those first responders. They were under pressure. That’s pressure to me...real-life pressure. This is a game that players dream about being in this situation...Game 7,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Playing road hockey in a small town in Canada or playing in a big city in the United States or somewhere in between, that’s what it’s all about. Enjoy the moment. Prepare to play well and now you’ve got to go out and embrace it. That’s the simplest message we can give to our players: Do your job, do it well and trust the guy beside you that’s done it all year. That’s the mentality we have to have for a full 60 minutes.”

All of the leadership and the wise words from Backes, Zdeno Chara (tonight will be his 12th career Game 7, tops among all active NHL players) and Patrice Bergeron (nine career Game 7s before tonight) can certainly be a difference-maker for the Bruins as opposed to the younger, less experienced Maple Leafs. 

That leadership and experience come into play in a major way to get the young, inexperienced Bruins ready for their first Game 7. Rookies Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk and Sean Kuraly will all be playing in their first career Game 7 and even David Pastrnak. a more experienced young player, will participate in his first do-or-die Game 7.

“It’s do-or-die for both teams now. It’s two good teams going at it and we’re going to be ready to play our best hockey. That’s the only way to approach it,” said Kuraly. “We tried to approach each of the last two games like a Game 7 and a must-win, but now it really is that. It’s higher stakes and we need to compete at the highest level we can and have faith that what we’ve done all year is going to work.

“We know we can follow the lead [of the veterans] and if we follow their lead, trust in them and follow them like we have all year, it’s going to work out just like it has all season for us.”

Clearly, there will be nerves and jitters with their playoff lives on the ice, but to a man, all of those young players pointed toward their proven, grizzled, veteran leaders that who have been on the winning and losing sides in their distinguished careers.

“You realize that this game is important. The pressure, though, you don’t want to feel any of that. You know what’s on the line and you know you have to show up and play. You have to break through and I think we will,” said McAvoy. “There is a lot of confidence in this locker room still. We’ve had such a good year and we still have the confidence in this room that we can get the job done.

“I know [Zdeno Chara] will be ready to go, so I’m going to have to lean on him. I know it’s going to be very emotional with the home crowd, and with what’s at stake. But you grow up dreaming of playing in these moments in a Game 7, so I’m going to enjoy every single moment of it.”

On the other side of it, Toronto's Jake Gardiner, James van Riemsdyk and Patrick Marleau have all been on the losing end of plenty of Game 7s and their younger guys Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander have never been there before. 

Boston’s experience and leadership married with their strong rookie class should be the major difference-maker in this high-pressure game. Then again, that’s why they go out and play the games. Game 7 experience will go by the wayside once both sides are sucked into the pace and style of the deciding game in a series that’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

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