Bruins' lack of first-period scoring again problematic in Game 7 loss to Blues

Bruins' lack of first-period scoring again problematic in Game 7 loss to Blues

BOSTON --  The Boston Bruins outplayed the St. Louis Blues in the first period of Game 7, but the B's couldn't bury their early scoring chances and it cost them a Stanley Cup championship.

The Blues' 4-1 victory in Wednesday night's Game 7 at TD Garden was fueled by a pair of first-period goals that demoralized the crowd after an otherwise strong performance from the Bruins in the opening 20 minutes. 

St. Louis got on the board with 3:03 remaining in the first period when Ryan O'Reilly tipped a Jay Bouwmeester shot past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. 

"They did a good job on the first goal," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "They knocked us off the puck twice. They get it low to high and then it goes either on net or down low, and that was their game. They got the high tip. They got a fortunate kind of bounce there, but they worked for it."

The Blues doubled their advantage with only eight seconds left in the first period. A bad line change allowed the Blues to control the puck in the attacking zone, and Alex Pietrangelo beat Rask to give his team a 2-0 lead. This was the goal that really put the Bruins in a tough spot -- only two teams in NHL history have erased a multi-goal deficit and won a Game 7 of the Cup Final.

"The second (goal), we just didn't manage the puck," Cassidy said. "We kind of missed an assignment and they made a play, a nice play by Pietrangelo. But you're probably in a different game if it's 1-0 coming out of the first, I do believe that. I'm not going to say we would have won or we would have lost, I'm not a mind reader, but I do believe that it gave them a lot of juice for a period that they, if they looked at it objectively, probably felt or should  have felt that they got outplayed, but they're up 2-0 on the scoreboard and that's all that matters."

The Bruins, in the first period, had a 22-8 edge (17-8 at 5-on-5) in shot attempts, a 12-4 advantage (9-4 at 5-on-5) in shots on goals, and a 9-5 lead (6-5 at 5-on-5) in scoring chances. The crowd was all fired up at the start of the game, and the B's certainly fed off that energy after a jittery first few minutes.

The Bruins' inability to score first and go into the second period with a lead cost them in Game 5 and it was the case again in Game 7. There hasn't been a lead change in a Cup Final Game 7 since 1987 -- a span of seven consecutive Game 7s of the Cup Final where the team that's scored first won.

"We thought we were going to (come back)," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. "We had that belief we have all year, we've done it plenty of times. It takes one goal to get going and swing that momentum, and we just didn't get that one early enough. We thought we'd be able to come back, but obviously we didn't."

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Report: Bruins, Bruce Cassidy are discussing contract extension

Report: Bruins, Bruce Cassidy are discussing contract extension

"I don’t anticipate us having any problems with Butch."

That's what Bruins president Cam Neely had to say about Bruce Cassidy's contract situation when he sat down for an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Boston's Joe Haggerty earlier this month.

Now the team is reportedly doing something about it. According to The Athletic's Joe McDonald, the Bruins have begun contract negotations with their head coach, who is entering the final year of his contract.

Locking Cassidy up is a no-brainer for the Bruins, as the 54-year-old has led the team to a 117-52-22 record in two-plus seasons behind the bench. He needed just 166 games to win 100 games with the Bruins, the second-fastest coach in team history to reach that mark, behind only Tom Johnson's 138 games.

Cassidy has also taken the Bruins deeper into the postseason in each successive year, losing in the first round in 2017, the second round in 2018, and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final this past season. And despite coming within one game of hoisting the Cup in June, Neely has said that the playoffs are a growth opportunity for Cassidy.

"Coming in when he did and getting us to the playoffs and then almost having two back-to-back, 50-win seasons is pretty impressive," Neely said in June. "You know, learn from our playoff losses and how to maybe coach a little bit differently in the playoffs. You know, it’s kind of a tale of two seasons, to get into the playoffs, and then once you’re in the playoffs, how do you adjust for a seven-game series. I think Butch [Cassidy] has done a really good job in managing the regular season and learning from playoff hockey."

The Bruins' roster hasn't changed much since last season, so Cassidy will once again be very familiar with his players this coming season. While Marcus Johansson and Noel Acciari departed in free agency, the team added other lower-impact free agents like Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm.

The biggest item on Boston's to-do list before the season begins (outside of Cassidy's contract) is locking down defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, both of whom are restricted free agents. If the team can figure out deals for McAvoy, Carlo, and Cassidy, it would be a good first step in trying to get back to the Stanley Cup Final and winning one more game this time around.

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Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask 'still getting flashbacks' to Game 7 Stanley Cup loss

Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask 'still getting flashbacks' to Game 7 Stanley Cup loss

Losing in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final to the St. Louis Blues will forever be a painful memory for the Boston Bruins, and goaltender Tuukka Rask still hasn't stopped thinking about it.

“I don’t think you ever get over that, still getting flashbacks," Rask said on WEEI's "The Greg Hill Show" on Tuesday. "But you know, you got to realize it’s only sports, and it is what it is."

Rask was brilliant in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, posting a .934 save percentage and a 2.02 goals against average over 24 games. Unfortunately for Rask and the Bruins, Game 7 against the Blues at TD Garden was not one of his better performances of the spring. Rask allowed four goals on 20 shots as the Blues secured their first ever Stanley Cup championship.

One challenge Rask and the rest of the Bruins have dealt with this offseason is a shorter period of recovery time. Obviously, you'd rather have a shorter offseason because it means your team made a deep playoff run, but it does make preparing for the next season a bit tougher.

“I think the mental aspect is the biggest thing, especially if it’s a disappointing loss like that," Rask said. "You have to just kind of unwind and try to forget about hockey as much as you can. But then again, you only have 2-and-a-half, three months until the next season starts, so you’ve got to take a month for your body to recover. It’s a really small window to kind of recover and then try to get back in shape. I think if you can just kind of do something and stay somewhat in shape and keep skating, that’ll help you start the new season because you only have a couple months between the games. But I think mentally, it’s just such a grind, hockey season, you know you play 82 games plus 25, possibly, so mentally it’s very draining. And the fresher mentally you can be, the better off you are, I think.”

The Bruins did a nice job keeping Rask fresh last season. A huge part of that was signing veteran goalie Jaroslav Halak to serve as the backup. Rask played 46 games and started 45 of them -- his lowest totals for a non-lockout season since 2012. It paid off, too, because he looked fresh and ready to go come playoff time.

Employing a similar strategy during the 2019-20 season will be crucial in allowing Rask to recover from a long playoff run. Halak proved last season that he's more than capable of shouldering the load, evidenced by his 22-11-4 record with a .922 save percentage in 40 appearances.

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