Bruins had many turning points this season before reaching Stanley Cup Final

Bruins had many turning points this season before reaching Stanley Cup Final

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Veteran Bruins players that have been there before always have the expectation that something special is going to happen with each and every hockey season.

Perhaps it’s just part of the culture that the Bruins have built over the last 12 years, and a key optimistic part of what’s pushed the Bruins to three Stanley Cup Final appearances over the last eight years. Certainly it’s the mindset that 42-year-old captain Zdeno Chara brings to the table every season, and has made the Bruins a playoff team in 10 of the 13 seasons that he’s been in Black and Gold.

“There are always some moments and sequences when you can look back,” said Chara, when asked if there was any moment that he knew this Bruins team had the makings of a special group. “I’ve never felt any differently this team. The team that we have is always one that I believe in. That won’t ever change. That’s the biggest thing for me.

“I always believe that the group of guys we have, the players we have, the coaches, the system and what management goes, I always believe that’s the way we go and I follow the lead that’s set by the organization. I just go and try to make the best out of it.”

But optimism was high coming off last season when the Bruins pumped 112 points out of their regular season, even if it was a little bit guarded with the knowledge that they still needed to get by a Tampa Bay Lightning juggernaut in their own division.

As circumstances would have it, the Bruins once again had an excellent regular season in 2018-19 even if it wasn’t the kind of historic campaign put together by the Lightning. Then they outlasted Toronto in the playoffs and all of a sudden people started paying much closer attention to a Bruins team that had a clear pathway to the Stanley Cup Final once Tampa, Washington and Pittsburgh all fell by the wayside in the first round of the playoffs.

But let’s not shortchange this Bruins team either. They have been one of the NHL’s best teams for most of this season, and they truly do deserve to be in the Stanley Cup Final, whether they received breaks along the way or not.

“I’m proud of the guys. We’ve earned the right to be where we are and be in the Stanley Cup Final,” said Bruce Cassidy.  “We’ve beaten three good teams. There’s a bit of unfinished business here, but I think our guys understand that there are four more steps to go here.”

They traveled all the way to China during training camp, took the Winter Classic crown when they defeated the host Blackhawks at Notre Dame’s football stadium, ripped off points in 19 straight games down the stretch and have pieced together an impressive seven-game winning streak during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Bruce Cassidy felt like the Winter Classic and the “Peaky Blinders” outfits worn by the Bruins players was a turning point moment for the B’s when things really started coming together.  

“There was the core [group] right from the beginning, right? But some of that core group wasn’t in China, so it was a lot of the young guys that had to take charge. Guys like Jake [DeBrusk] and Charlie [McAvoy] that had been here for a year got a little more vocal. I think the Winter Classic was a little bit more of a turning point if you want to look back. The whole ‘Peaky Blinders’ theme really brought the guys together, and I think that was Torey Krug’s doing if I’m not mistaken.

“But in the game itself we seemed to take off from there. That was one instance where we really came together. I think that was the first time we had probably had everybody healthy with the group we thought we’d start with at the beginning of the year. We’ve always allowed the players to kind of have that room. It’s Zee, Bergeron, Krejci and Tuukka, these guys have won a Cup. We’ve never really interfered with it too much and have always viewed it as a positive that [the players] can kind of police their own things.”

Certainly the Bruins season has been about overcoming adversity with the Bruins losing both Patrice Bergeron and Chara for an overlapping month, losing David Pastrnak toward the end of the season with a freak thumb injury and not getting a truly effective Charlie McAvoy until after the midpoint of the season. That as much as anything else has defined the Bruins over the course of this NHL regular season and steeled them against many of the things thrown underneath them over the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“There are a lot of things that brought us together throughout the season,” said Brad Marchand. “The Winter Classic was a pretty special thing to go through as a group, but another one was [the trip] to China. We had a lot of fun over there as a group, and a couple of long nights and fun bus rides. Those are the things that bring you together and you look back on as building relationships. There were a lot of different things that we went through this year and things you can look back on. But it’s also something we stressed in the room and take a lot of pride in. It’s really paying off for us right now.”

No trash talk from John Tortorella “denting” Tuukka Rask was going to throw the Bruins off track, and no amount of scrutiny thrown at Brad Marchand was going to make him shrink from the big moments, even if the entire Canadian media seems to be against him at any given moment.

This Bruins team has proven time and again that they are big game performers and that they are survivors who will be there at the end of the day. Those two things as much as anything else allow the Bruins to be there still standing at the very end of the Stanley Cup playoff tournament, and lying in wait for a challenger in the Western Conference that’s going to be the underdog in the final series, no matter who it is. 

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Bruce Cassidy doesn't commit to keeping David Pastrnak on top line

Bruce Cassidy doesn't commit to keeping David Pastrnak on top line

Head coach Bruce Cassidy and the rest of the Bruins front office and coaching staff have a lot to think about this summer.

After losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins have more questions than answers heading into the offseason. What do you do with David Backes? Can Brad Marchand replicate his 100-point regular season? Sell high on Torey Krug? 

Arguably the most pressing question that arose at various points in the season and into the playoffs: Is the "Perfection Line" worth keeping together? On Monday afternoon, Cassidy addressed whether David Pastrnak's spot next to Marchand and Patrice Bergeron is safe: 

"Yeah, we had a lot of discussions this year about Pasta staying there," Cassidy said. "Going forward, to me it always depends (on) what are the options. Who’s going to go there and make us the best team? At times, Danton Heinen did a good job. I felt at the end of the day, could he sustain it every night? Wasn’t convinced. Not saying he could or couldn’t, but that was my decision to put Pasta back there.

"After that, I don’t know if we tried a whole lot of other guys. At the deadline we had some ideas. Unfortunately, the injury to Johansson, that’s the hand you’re dealt, so he could’ve been a good fit up there too. Going forward, next year I will talk about that. I think, geez, we went back to Anders Bjork we thought at a time would be – so, there could be a younger guy that steps up in camp. For me to say right now that this guy is going to go there, I don’t think you do that. You have to let the player earn it and see what they’ve got.

"So, that’s it, or maybe someone else will surface elsewhere. That’s internal stuff that we’ll have discussions about, but that’s the game plan for next year. They’ve been an excellent line. They want to grow as well. They want to keep getting better, so certainly a possibility they’ll stay together."

By no means did Cassidy shut the door on the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line. However, Pastrnak's poor playoff performance amid some self-described mental battles led some to suggest he should be moved down to David Krejci's second line. 

In the playoffs, Pastrnak finished with nine goals, 19 points and an even plus/minus in 24 games. But in the Stanley Cup Final against St. Louis, Pastrnak was a -7. In total, the Perfection Line scored two goals and had 19 goals against during five-on-five play against the Blues. 

The Bruins shuffled Pastrnak between the first and second lines during both the regular season and their playoff run, so shifting him permanently wouldn't be that extreme of an adjustment. To maximize the Bruins' ceiling, they need to get the most out of Pastrnak, whatever line he plays on. 

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Bruins should make re-signing free agent Marcus Johansson a priority

Bruins should make re-signing free agent Marcus Johansson a priority

The Boston Bruins' trade-deadline acquisition of Marcus Johansson proved to be a very good move by general manager Don Sweeney, and the team would be wise to re-sign the veteran forward before/during NHL free agency.

Johansson, 28, is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He earned $4.75 million last season between the New Jersey Devils and the Bruins -- the final year of his three-year contract . Sweeney and Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy held a press conference Monday, and the B's GM praised Johansson's fit with the team while discussing the possibility of re-signing him.

"Well, we met – we had some meetings. I told Marcus that I did have the same, along the same lines, with the RFA side of things that we have some things we need to clarify internally before I can definitively tell him," Sweeney said. "We found that Marcus was a really good fit for our hockey club. I was proud of how he got injured, came back and elevated his play, was really invested, thought he fit in really well with Charlie [Coyle] coming in, gave us some options on the power play, was a really good fit. Good person, great teammate and got us to a certain point. Wish we could’ve finished it off."

The Bruins enter the offseason with about $14 million in salary cap space, per Spotrac, and the first two orders of business should be locking up restricted free agent defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo to long-term contracts. These young d-men, especially McAvoy, are part of the bright future on Boston's blue line.

Johansson definitely needs to be a priority for the Bruins, however. One of the reasons why the B's were able to progress to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final after a disappointing 2018 playoff run was they bolstered their depth with speedy, skilled bottom-six forwards. Johansson was a critical part of that group alongside Charlie Coyle (another pre-deadline acquisition).

Injury prevented Johansson from making much of an impact for the B's in the regular season and he was limited to just 10 games. But he was effective in the Stanley Cup playoffs with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 22 games. The Bruins, according to Natural Stat Trick, had a positive differential in shot attempts, shots on goal, goals scored, scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances during 5-on-5 action in the playoffs when Johansson was on the ice. Johansson also played 2:13 of power-play ice time per game in the playoffs, the fourth-most among B's forwards.

The Bruins shouldn't break the bank to bring back Johansson, but at the right price he absolutely should be re-signed. He's still young, he provides scoring depth and we already have evidence he can be effective with several different linemates in Cassidy's system. Johansson spent a lot of time on the third line in 2018-19, but he also could fill a wing spot next to David Krejci on Boston's second line next season if needed.

Boston must capitalize on its remaining championship window, and that should include re-signing Johansson to help ensure the roster has enough depth to withstand injuries in future playoff runs.

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