TORONTO – Give Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy credit where it’s due.
He was mostly outcoached in the first three games of the first-round playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs where Mike Babcock was winning the matchup battle, and Cassidy seemed hesitant to make adjustments to Boston’s game plan headed into the series.
That all changed in Game 4 with Cassidy opting to practice a little Stanley Cup playoff subterfuge where he let everybody think he was going to keep Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak together on Boston’s top line. Instead, he decided to switch things up in order to get some of his best offensive players away from the match-up with defensive stoppers, and it seemed to park a turning of the tides.
“It was just moving Pasta around. He wasn’t on top of his game for whatever reason. Heinen has played with Marchand and Bergeron when Pasta missed his five weeks and he did a good job up there,” said Cassidy, who admitted the only question about making the change was the health of Marcus Johansson as a possible third line addition along with the top-6 changes. “I’m not sure if Danton can do it every night at this point in his career against top lines and top D’s, but he certainly does a nice job in spots. Pasta and Krejci have played together, so it was just a different look.
“We’re just moving some pieces around and hopefully it gives us a spark. Maybe it makes them think. You never know if it might affect the way they do things. I don’t think it did because they just played their game. But at the end of the day we still got Pasta back with Bergeron and Marchand on the power play, and on a few 5-on-5 shifts. It certainly worked out for us tonight.”
Cassidy said they decided on it earlier in the day on Wednesday after adamantly saying he was sticking with the B’s Perfection Line to the point where he even had them skate together for line rushes during pregame warm-ups. The Game 4 charade clearly worked as the Bruins scored two goals in each of the first two periods and never trailed at any point in the game.
The fact that Cassidy did it so covertly and sprung it on the Leafs at the least minute really made it a brilliant strategy and showed that the B’s bench boss is perfectly capable of matching wits with the best in the NHL coaching biz during the postseason.
At the very least it was a different look, and the hope was it might cause some disruption for a Leafs coaching staff that would have to determine where to match up their shutdown line and defense pairing.
“We don’t expect to win games as a line. We expect to win games with every guy in here as a team,” said Marchand, when asked about the changes and about added pressure on the top guys to produce in the playoffs. “We know we’re going to battle as a group against a great team [in the Maple Leafs], and we expect to compete as a group win or lose. That’s all it is.
“We’re not going to look at past playoff games or past performances and think that means it’s going to play out any certain way. Every game is different and every play is different. We’re just going to play, and how it plays out is how it plays out.”
Here’s what can’t be denied: David Pastrnak scored his first two goals of the series, Brad Marchand was at his playmaking best and both Toronto defensive stalwarts John Tavares and Jake Muzzin were saddled with minus-3 performances. All of it was in stark contrast to much of the way things played out in the first three games in the series, and spoke to a coach in Cassidy that finally injected his own bench boss abilities into the fray.
Give Butch Cassidy a big assist in Boston’s pivotal Game 4 win over the Leafs, and let’s see what he has in store for the rest of this first-round series now that he’s got Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs guessing just a little bit.
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