Bruins take a turn for the better in 2017
After years of job-security speculation dating back to even before they won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the Bruins finally parted ways with longtime coach Claude Julien at a time when the team seemed stuck in neutral. (The announcement infamously coincided with the Patriots' Super Bowl parade.) Bruce Cassidy took over on an interim basis and led the B's to a strong 18-8-1 finish that earned them their first playoff berth in three seasons. Cassidy has the Bruins looking like playoff material again this season, and sit slightly above Julien’s Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division standings. Funny how quickly things can change within a year, isn’t it?
MARCH 1: THE RIGHT KIND OF DEADLINE DEAL
A year after GM Don Sweeney had needlessly given up a slew of draft picks for average rentals Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles at the trade deadline, Sweeney smartly surrendered just a conditional fifth-round pick for Drew Stafford. The veteran winger scored four goals -- including some clutch scores -- and eight points, along with a plus-8 rating, in 18 games. He performed as well as just about anybody the Bruins could have acquired at the deadline, and Sweeney wisely gave up next-to-nothing in order to get him.
MARCH 25: SPECIAL K
In late March the Bruins -- mired in a four-game losing streak -- headed to Brooklyn for a showdown against the Islanders, a team they were battling for one of the final playoff spots, without banged-up and rattled goalie Tuukka Rask, who was in a slump of his own. But Anton Khudobin allowed just one goal and fourth-line forward Riley Nash scored a pair in what proved to be a pivotal win in Boston’s playoff march. The game sparked a six-game winning streak that carried the Bruins into the postseason.
APRIL 12-23: CUP EXPERIENCE
The Bruins got into the Stanley Cup playoffs but faced an uphill climb without three of their top four defenseman -- Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Adam McQuaid -- for the series against the Ottawa Senators. They eventually fell to the Sens in six games in a series dominated by flashy Ottawa D-man Erik Karlsson and some controversial calls from the referees. But the Bruins had some highlights, topped by a double-overtime Game 5 win in Ottawa that featured a pair of goals from hard-nosed rookie fourth-liner Sean Kuraly (celebrating the goal at left). Although they dropped all three home games it was a good first step into moving forward for the Black and Gold, and featured the impressive NHL debut of the brilliant Charlie McAvoy averaging more than 26 minutes of ice time per game.
JULY 1: ALL IS CALM
Despite some clear areas of need on the NHL roster, the Bruins essentially stood pat at the July 1 opening of free agency, only signing depth pieces in winger Kenny Agostino and defensemanPaul Postma. There were no earth-shattering trades, or big-ticket free-agent signings like the Matt Beleskey and David Backes deals in each of the previous two summers. Agostino wasn’t able to stick on the NHL roster, and Postma has essentially served as a seventh defenseman with little chance of displacing the top-6 guys regularly in the lineup. Instead the Bruins bought into the youth movement and cleared the decks to give Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Sean Kuraly, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Matt Grzelcyk legitimate NHL chances.
OCTOBER 5: GRAND OPENING
In an impressive showing right out of the starting gate, rookie Jake DeBrusk scores a goal in his NHL debut for the Bruins on opening night and the B’s play fast, tough and confident in an impressive 4-3 win over the reigning Western Conference champion Nashville Predators. The DeBrusk goal was really an iconic moment, with TV cameras catching DeBrusk’s dad, former NHL tough guy Louie DeBrusk, tearing up in the stands as he watched his boy follow in his footsteps. With a team relying on a large contingent of rookie players and without an injured Patrice Bergeron in the lineup, the Bruins show that they could have some potential this season as their younger players continue to improve their respective games.
NOV. 16-24: (TEMPORARY) CHANGING OF THE GUARD
At a time when the injured-plagued Bruins were struggling and Tuukka Rask was off to one of the worst starts of his NHL career, Bruce Cassidy executed the bold -- and correct -- choice to bench Rask for four straight games. Backup Anton Khudobin ripped off four straight wins for the Bruins, pulling them out of their early season funk and setting them on a hot streak that pushed into a playoff spot. Things eventually return to normal, and Rask played much better hockey after getting pushed by his understudy. But there’s no question the season could have gone off the rails if Cassidy hadn’t decided to make a big move very early in his tenure as head coach.
DECEMBER 18: HOWE ABOUT THAT!
He's having an impressive rookie season, with all signs point toward him developing into a workhorse No. 1 defenseman. But Charlie McAvoy really raised eyebrows by collecting his first career Gordie Howe hat trick in a blowout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. McAvoy snipes home the game-winning goal on the power play in the second period, plays 19 plus minutes of bruising hockey against the Blue Jackets and drops the gloves with Pierre-Luc Dubois in the third period while scoring the take-down against the big-bodied Columbus forward. The unquestioned bright spot of the first three months of the regular season is the play of McAvoy, an early contender for the Calder Trophy while shining as one of the best young players in the league. The fact he hits hard and is willing to drop the gloves makes him even more of a burgeoning favorite player to Bruins fans as well.