Bruce Cassidy’s ‘Stroke Of Genius’ A Microcosm Of Bruins’ Great Season

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Bruce Cassidy continues to pull all of the right strings as coach of the Boston Bruins.

Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames provided another example of Cassidy having his finger on the pulse and reacting appropriately when the situation calls for it, as the Bruins bench boss made an important decision after the first period that paved the way for Boston’s 5-2 win at TD Garden.

David Pastrnak has been having an excellent season playing alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. The trio make up one of the best lines in hockey, consistently controlling all three zones and leading the team among forwards in time on ice. But it was evident less than 20 minutes into Tuesday night’s contest, with the Bruins trailing 2-1, that Cassidy needed to switch things up.

So he did. And it worked.

Flames captain Mark Giordano drilled Pastrnak in the first period while trying to enter the offensive zone. The hit sent Pastrnak’s stick flying down the ice and seemingly ruffled the 21-year-old’s feathers, as he responded by slashing Giordano when the two converged a short time later.

Pastrnak was slapped with a penalty that ended a Bruins power play and his night on Boston’s top line. Cassidy swapped out Pastrnak for veteran David Backes, who joined Bergeron and Marchand. Pastrnak slid down alongside Riley Nash and Danton Heinen.

“Stroke of genius, huh?” Cassidy joked with reporters after the game.

Sure was.

The Bruins controlled the tempo for the next two periods. Nash tied the score 2-2 with his second goal of the game late in the second period, and Bergeron scored two third-period goals as Boston came out flying in the final frame. Zdeno Chara added a rink-long empty-netter for good measure.

The decision to move Pastrnak down to the third line wasn’t based entirely on the young winger’s ill-advised slashing penalty or recent goal drought. Cassidy also wanted to match up better with Calgary’s line combinations after seeing Johnny Gaudreau put the Flames on top 2-1 midway through the first period. But the coach acknowledged he sent a little bit of a message with the switch-up.

“He knew he took a bad penalty. He came out of the box ready to go in the second period,” Cassidy said of Pastrnak. “He was physical. He was winning pucks. Nice play, Heinen found him, got his shot on net. He wanted to give back. He knew he messed up. That’s the growth you like to see him.

“You don’t like to see a guy go pouting, sit at the end of the bench, and not respond. That’s maturity. He responded the right way, played hard, and helped us win a hockey game.”

In other words, Pastrnak looked motivated. So, too, did Backes, who adjusted seamlessly to joining Bergeron and Marchand on Boston’s top line.

This development might seem minor in the grand scheme of things, especially since Pastrnak likely will rejoin Bergeron and Marchand. But it’s a perfect microcosm of the tone Cassidy has established since taking over after Claude Julien’s firing last season. Decisions are going to be made based on performance and effort; not reputation. Just ask Tuukka Rask, Torey Krug, Pastrnak or any other player whose role changed at some point this season.

“You’re going to have tough matchups come April and May,” Cassidy told reporters, shedding more light on Tuesday’s decision to bump Pastrnak. “If we’re fortunate enough to be playing well and playing at that time of the year, that’s what (Pastrnak’s) going to see. He’s going to have to grow from the experience he got last year. So there was a little bit of (sending a message), for sure.

“I love David’s passion for the game, his willingness to compete. We just have to remind him every once in a while how to compete, how to manage the puck, and how to best help the team.”

Message sent. Message received. Another well-timed decision by the man in charge.

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