Two things happened on Feb. 7, 2017: The New England Patriots celebrated their Super Bowl LI win over the Atlanta Falcons with a parade through the streets of Boston, and the Boston Bruins fired head coach Claude Julien, paving the way for Bruce Cassidy to become the team’s interim bench boss.
The Patriots’ parade obviously provided New Englanders with instant gratification, but the Bruins’ coaching change is paying dividends exactly one year later, as Cassidy (now the full-time head coach) has Boston looking like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
The Bruins played with a spark throughout the tail end of last season following Cassidy’s arrival, riding an up-tempo style of play to an 18-8-1 finish and a first-round playoff date with the Ottawa Senators. Boston lost to Ottawa in six games, but Cassidy, who had been coaching the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence, showed promise with the big club, and general manager Don Sweeney wasted little time in removing the “interim” label from his title.
Cassidy already is rewarding the organization for its faith by pulling all of the right strings this season amid Boston’s surprising success. The Bruins have been bitten by the injury bug in several instances, yet they keep rolling, thanks in large to the culture Cassidy already has created.
Past credentials don’t matter as much as the current task, and no situation this season highlighted that more than when Cassidy rode the hot hand back in November and heavily leaned on a sizzling Anton Khudobin over a struggling Tuukka Rask in net. Rask since has bounced back, posting a 19-0-2 record in his last 21 decisions, a stretch in which he’s allowed more than two goals just three times.
The Bruins’ brief yet rewarding goalie battle — if you want to call it that — isn’t the only feather in Cassidy’s cap, either. He’s placed several rookies into prominent roles, including defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk and forwards Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen. They’ve admirably responded, giving Boston an impressive young cast to supplement its established veteran nucleus.
All told, the Bruins are among the Eastern Conference’s elite in a season in which they were pegged by many to be a fringe playoff team, at best. The B’s entered Wednesday second in the Atlantic Division (and the conference), trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning by just three points with two games in hand. They recently had an 18-game point streak — the franchise’s longest since the 1968-69 season — and they’re fourth in the NHL in goals scored per game (3.22) and first in goals against per game (2.37).
“The team’s going well right now. We’re in a good place,” Cassidy told reporters before Thursday night’s game against the New York Rangers, per the Boston Herald. “The vision we had when I sat down with Donnie was we wanted to win now but we wanted to incorporate the youth into our lineup. We didn’t know which players it would be. We had a good idea, but we wanted to get some in there and see if they could handle it. That was the big ‘if’ going into it, if they could handle it. And they have.”
Julien helped bring a Stanley Cup to Boston in 2011, and the Bruins forever will be thankful for his nine-plus years of service. The organization eventually needed a change, though, and Julien’s successor sure has done his job in guiding the Bruins back to prominence, even sooner than expected.
“It’s been a lot of hockey games, a lot of wins, that’s the good news,” Cassidy said. “That’s how you keep your job and have a few more anniversaries.”
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