Jim Montgomery in his first season as Bruins coach was a near-unanimous winner of the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top head coach.

In his second season, he has been even better.

Montgomery and his Bruins will begin their quest for the Stanley Cup on Saturday night when they welcome the Toronto Maple Leafs to TD Garden. They will do so as slight favorites after another wildly impressive regular season.

One year after a record-breaking, 135-point season, the deck was stacked against them entering the 2023-24 campaign. A disappointing first-round exit last spring gave way to a painful offseason in which Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retired. On top of that, the bill for Don Sweeney’s artful salary-cap maneuvering to keep Bergeron and Krejci for one last all-or-nothing run last season came due.

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The Bruins were tasked obviously with replacing the production of Bergeron and Krejci, who combined for 114 points with the former also winning the Selke Trophy — not to mention the potential leadership void from losing two players with a combined 35 years of NHL experience. On top of that, the cap crunch kept Boston from retaining key deadline additions Tyler Bertuzzi, Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway in free agency and led them to trade Taylor Hall, too.

If ever there was to be a reset season, it would have been 2023-24.

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Instead, the Bruins won their first six games of the season and 13 of their first 16. They didn’t lose on home ice until the day after American Thanksgiving, and by December, Montgomery had a 15-4-3 team that would have taken an act of God to miss the playoffs.

They finished the season with 47 wins and just five teams had a higher points percentage.

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Clearly, Montgomery and his staff did a masterful job of having the team ready to go from the jump. He knew the right buttons to push for players like Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha, who were called on to somehow replace the production of Bergeron and Krejci. They did that and more, each setting new career highs in points and surpassing the combined point production of their predecessors.

One of the main reasons the Bruins decided to part ways with Bruce Cassidy, and something that led them to Montgomery, was the latter’s ability to connect with and elevate young talent. Matthew Poitras, John Beecher and Mason Lohrei all contributed at various points. Justin Brazeau wasn’t on any radars to begin the season but emerged as a strong net-front presence with impressive hands, scoring a handful of goals in limited action before getting hurt. That his potential return later in this series would be a major boost for Boston speaks to the process in general.

Trent Frederic’s ascent continues, too, setting another career high in points. The B’s also circled back on Danton Heinen, who struggled to find consistency in his first tour of duty. He reunited with Montgomery, who coached him at the University of Denver, and had arguably the best season of his career.

“(Montgomery and his staff were) attacking things that were going to be a bit of progress from day one,” general manager Don Sweeney said Thursday at a pre-playoff press conference. “Some opportunity for some players, as we saw early on with Poitras and Beecher doing a really good job in the early part of the season and grabbing hold of the opportunity.

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“Other guys — in Danton Heinen’s case — really remarkable. … I think the two of them fed off of that from a trust factor and parlayed it into an outstanding season for us on an individual and team level.”

Montgomery made necessary changes to his approach, too. A year ago, Montgomery seemingly gushed every day about how lucky he was to coach such a talented team. They won just about every night. Then the playoffs came, though, and the Bruins couldn’t meet the moment. Montgomery pledged to do his part, to look in the mirror and change his ways ahead of 2023-24.

No two teams are the same, so year-over-year change is not just inevitable, it’s imperative. But it has been fascinating to see Montgomery’s assessments evolve. He’s still a generally positive coach, but he seemed far more willing to call out his team in public. The results dictated that, sure, but the tone sure seemed different from the outside looking in.

As the season came to a close, the Bruins were sputtering after a pair of losses to the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. Montgomery let his team have it at practice, an expletive-laden rant preceding wind sprints. He publicly chided his team at a press conference later that day, declaring with three weeks left in the season his team wasn’t ready for the playoffs.

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The Bruins won five of their next six games.

Ultimately, though, Montgomery’s performance would and should be judged on his team’s postseason performance, especially on the heels of how last season ended. It won’t be easy, either, when task No. 1 is trying to solve the impossible riddle that is Auston Matthews.

In what should have been a trying season, though, Montgomery offered no reason to believe he can’t meet the moment this spring.

Featured image via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images