Bruins

Bruins know "killer instinct" vs. Canes is needed based on past playoff experience

Bruins know "killer instinct" vs. Canes is needed based on past playoff experience

RALEIGH, NC – It certainly looks like the Bruins are in complete control of the Eastern Conference final after taking a 3-0 lead over the Carolina Hurricanes, and that the Cinderella story Canes are quickly turning into a pumpkin at midnight against a better hockey team. So the fourth and final win should be forthcoming in short order whether it’s during Thursday night’s Game 4 at PNC Arena, or back home in Boston for Game 5 this weekend.

In that sense there’s not a lot of suspense with one hockey club clearly and demonstrably better, deeper and more well-rounded than the other one.

But the Bruins also feature a veteran group of players that have been through the extreme ups and downs of the playoffs, and know that being up 3-0 in a series is no time to rest on their laurels. Tuukka Rask was the goalie of record in 2010 when the Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers, and Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara were all on that team as well.

So the B’s veteran core knows full well how important it is to close out a team as quickly as possible in a best-of-seven series, and that a commanding 3-0 lead is nothing to fool around with.

“You learn from all the experiences, but especially from the ones that are not as fun,” said Bergeron, referencing the blown 3-0 lead in 2010 vs. Philly that tipped on a Game 4 where David Krejci was knocked out of the series with a dislocated wrist. “It’s one of those things where [you learn] that the fourth game is the toughest one to win no matter where you’re at. That’s the attitude that we need to have. We really need to have that killer instinct, and to take it all one game at a time. You can’t look ahead. Right now that’s where we’re at.”

The simple breakdown is that the Hurricanes aren’t nearly as strong or capable of winning four straight against the Bruins as the Flyers were back in 2010, so the urgency to finish off the sweep doesn’t feel quite as urgent right now. But Bergeron and the rest of the B’s leadership group knows they can’t let their feet off the gas pedal as that’s when bad things happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs, where just about anything is possible.

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Bruins plan to address Bruce Cassidy's contract as he enters final year of the deal

Bruins plan to address Bruce Cassidy's contract as he enters final year of the deal

As Bruce Cassidy enters the final year of his contract as head coach of the Boston Bruins, it probably goes without saying that he deserves an extension. 

The good news for B's fans, according to Joe McDonald of The Athletic, Boston is pleased with Cassidy's performance and plans to address his contract. 

'He’s under contract, so we have decisions that we’re going to progress with, and he’ll be part of that,' general manager Don Sweeney said. 'He’s under contract, so it’s not a concern right now, but we will address it.'

After a 107-point 2018-19 campaign, good for the second-best mark in the NHL, Cassidy led the Bruins to the brink of a Stanley Cup only to fall in Game 7 at TD Garden to the St. Louis Blues.

One of the major themes of this year's Bruins team was their resiliency under Cassidy. Boston fought back from a 3-2 deficit in the first round of the playoffs against Toronto and a 2-1 deficit against Columbus to win those series, and then won another Game 6 on the road down 3-2 to the Blues. 

The Bruins have made the playoffs in each of their first three seasons with Cassidy leading the charge, improving their finish in the postseason each year. 

BRUINS UNDER CASSIDY

2016-17: 44-31-7 (95 points), lost in the first round (4-2)
2017-18: 50-20-12 (112 points), lost in the second round (4-1)
2018-19 49-24-9 (107 points), lost in Stanley Cup Final (4-3)

Cassidy is the second-fastest Bruins coach to reach 100 wins as he has cemented himself as one of the best coaches in the league. And team President Cam Neely certainly thinks highly of him. 

'He’s done a very good job for us, obviously,' Neely said. 'Coming in when he did and getting us to the playoffs and then almost having two, back-to-back 50-win seasons — pretty impressive. He learned from our playoff losses and how to maybe coach a little bit differently in the playoffs.'

We'll see if the Bruins extend Cassidy before the 2019-20 season starts, but it definitely seems like they view him as their long term answer on the Black and Gold's bench. 

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Bruins analysis: The pros and cons of another year of David Backes in Boston

Bruins analysis: The pros and cons of another year of David Backes in Boston

Clearly it hasn’t gone as either David Backes or the Boston Bruins planned during his first three years with his free-agent team.

The regular season was nothing to write home about for the 35-year-old with seven goals and 20 points in 70 games while bouncing between different lines, different roles, and spending unfamiliar time as a healthy scratch toward the end of the season. It was the first time it had devolved to that point with the B’s for the former captain of the St. Louis Blues.

Then Backes was again a healthy scratch for the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final and clearly felt like the confidence within him organizationally had taken a hit while being left out of the most important games of the season.

“It was a culmination of uncertainty, feelings of possibilities, potential opportunities with all sorts of things and missed opportunities,” said Backes. “It’s a swirl and a whirlwind of emotions that I haven’t fully gripped and I don’t know that I will in the near future. I don’t know if my situation and all of the extra layers helps or hurts. That’s my jumble of random thoughts.”

What does Backes mean by extra layers?

“Who our opponent was. Sitting out the last three games. Yeah, all of those sorts of things,” said Backes. “I had my exit meeting. They’re smart guys and they know that things are pretty raw. To dive too deep, we didn’t get there in our meetings. I probably had a better answer for you when I was in control of my future. I’m kind of in flux at the moment. I’ve got to trust in a bigger plan and that’s where I’m at.”

It all raises questions about Backes’ future with the team moving forward, and whether or not his long-term future will be in Boston. Even Backes himself seemed curious as to how it’s all going to play out this summer, but Don Sweeney sounded fairly certain this week that the veteran power forward is still a part of the team.

That would mean that a buyout of the final two years of Backes’ contract isn’t currently in the Black and Gold's gameplan.

“I don’t think any of our seasons ended the way we liked, to be honest with you. I think that we had a tremendous run. [Backes] was a big part of that, reinserted back in in Game 2 against Toronto where he elevated our physical play. You know, was a big part of our hockey club, on and off the ice. So where it fits going forward, he’s a part of our hockey club,” said Don Sweeney. “I have [trade] discussions on different players. He may or may not be a part of that, but for the most part, he’s a part of our hockey club.

“His impact is again up to Bruce [Cassidy] and up to David in terms of, from a production standpoint, he might be referencing that or from a leadership standpoint we know what he brings. I think there’s value there.”

It all makes sense given that there wouldn’t be much cap savings for the Bruins if they were to buy out Backes this summer. He also remains important in terms of a big-bodied, strong power forward who can intimidate from time to time, and as a veteran vocal leader who brings a different personality inside the Bruins' leadership structure.

That won’t preclude the Bruins from discussing potential trade scenarios if Boston could get out from under a contract that’s never been favorable. But it feels like it’s going to be a longshot for any team willing to take on the final two seasons of Backes in his mid-30’s unless the Bruins are likewise looking to take on another unwieldy contract in return.

That really isn’t going to put the Bruins in a better cap situation, and there’s no guarantee the replacement player will be the same kind of solid pro that Backes has been over the last three seasons.  

The Bruins are running under the premise that Backes is going to be back once again next season and will be filling out a role in the bottom-6 as a third- or fourth-line winger. He could most definitely add some toughness to that role and be that veteran, hard-nosed player willing to stick up for his teammates in time of need.

It was something he embraced toward the end of the regular season and something the Bruins needed out of their forward group.

“I thought he best fit in with [Sean] Kuraly / [Noel] Acciari / [Joakim] Nordstrom, in that type of role. At the end of the day, when [Chris] Wagner, Acciari were all healthy, there was competition for those spots, so sometimes he was in there, sometimes he wasn’t,” said Sweeney. “That’s where I see his best contribution to the team. At times he can move up in the lineup and give you some grit, a net-front presence, but in general, that’s where he played his best hockey for us. So, we’ll have to see how it all shakes out.”

Clearly the offense isn’t what it once was for Backes, and expecting him to ever get back to the 20-goal, 50-point season he reached with the Blues isn’t going to happen again in his NHL career. But it sounds like there is still going to be a role for Backes on the Bruins for at least next season, and the Bruins will need to find a way to work around the $6 million cap hit for next year while trying to squeeze the most out of his current ability level.

That will be a challenge, but the B’s also were able to get to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final this season even with Backes, while still bringing some positive value, clearly not able to live up to the contract he signed three years ago. 

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