Riley Nash will center the third line for the Bruins tonight. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

Riley Nash will center the third line for the Bruins tonight. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

A 13-game sample size, even with 10 wins and just three losses, has been more than enough to tell you that Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy is not afraid to switch things up. He’s done it before, and most recently did it for the second and third period of the club’s last game, a 2-1 last-second win over the Flyers last weekend.

The Cassidy shake-up will continue tonight, too, as the Bruins make their way out to Vancouver for the start of a tour of Western Canada.

Down Ryan Spooner (concussion) and Tim Schaller (lower-body), the easy decision for Cassidy will be to move Drew Stafford — who has two goals and four points in four games in town — back into the top-six and on the left side with David Krejci and David Pastrnak. The fourth line will see the return of Peter Cehlarik to the left of Dominic Moore and Jimmy Hayes, and the third line will feature Riley Nash between Matt Beleskey (on the left) and Frank Vatrano (on the right).

That looks like a whole lot of moving around — especially with the decision to move two different wingers away from their natural sides in Stafford and Vatrano — for the Bruins. But it’s not too much for the team to handle, according to Cassidy.

“I think Frankie, generally when he’s on, will find his shot no matter where he is,” Cassidy said of Vatrano’s move to the right side for tonight’s game. “It’s more about looking at players in some different spots without upsetting everything.”

The new Nash line has a little bit of everything for Cassidy. A defense-first, responsible center, a physical presence to the left, and a quick shot on the right. It’s a combo that Cassidy can trust in all situations, too, which is an added bonus in a setting and situation where the benefit of the last line change belongs to their opponent. It also means that Austin Czarnik, who has one hit, zero shots, and seven losses on eight faceoff battles in two games since his recall, will sit as the club’s healthy scratch up front.

The latter decision there means that it’s a return to NHL action for winger the 21-year-old Cehlarik.

A healthy scratch in the club’s last two games, Cehlarik will draw back into action in an energy role, at least in terms of ice-time and expected contributions, but with some power play time also expected to come his way, there’s room to step up.

“[Cehlarik] played well at times, other times he got knocked off some pucks like a lot of young guys,” Cassidy said of Cehlarik’s first 10 games. “We want him to play if he’s going to be here. If we feel he’s harder on pucks, maybe he moves up as well.”

Cehlarik has two assists and eight shots on goal in 10 games for the Big B’s this season.

After taking the morning off, Tuukka Rask is the expected starter for the Bruins. Rask stopped 26-of-27 shots in a win on Saturday, and comes into action with seven wins and a .928 save percentage in 10 starts since Cassidy took over as the team’s head coach. The 30-year-old has two wins and a .910 save percentage in seven career head-to-heads against the Canucks.

Vancouver counters with Ryan Miller. The veteran Miller somehow took a loss despite a 45-save effort in his last outing, and comes into action with three straight losses in spite of excellent numbers, which seems to be the ways thing have gone for him for about a billion years now. Miller allowed four goals on 30 shots in his only prior head-to-head with the Bruins this season.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Drew Stafford scored the game-winning goal with 5.6 seconds left in the game. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Drew Stafford scored the game-winning goal with 5.6 seconds left in the game. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bruins winger Drew Stafford gave me a minute-long lesson on the geometry of his game-winning goal before I realized I was being messed with. A veteran of over 700 NHL games, the only person that Stafford fooled more than me wore Philadelphia Orange.

But you can’t blame me for taking the bait.

After all, Stafford is one smart dude. Just ask his coach.

“He’s a smart player. I mean, let’s face it,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Stafford’s final play of the game. “He’s got composure. That’s a product of being in the league for 10 years, and knowing he can score and make plays, and they did a good job in the last minute, to get the puck first of all, and get it out with control, and then hey, you never know. You just never know, throwing it at the net, and I mean it’s lucky. We all know that. It’s a heartbreaker for Philly, but a benefit for us.”

In a game that featured long stretches without much of anything — the Bruins began their second period without a shot on goal for the first 8:45 of the period, and the Flyers had a 12-minute stretch without a shot in the third period — Stafford’s game-winning was oddly appropriate and almost expected given everything that didn’t get behind a goalie in this one, as Stafford’s shot bounced off Philly defenseman Brandon Manning’s stick and through Steve Mason for the game-winning goal of a 2-1 final.

“It was one of those overtime-type goals, you know?” Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask, who stopped 26-of-27 shots in the win, said. “[Stafford] made a nice move and [Kevan Miller] kept the play alive and Drew realized he had some time there and made a nice spin-o-rama and threw it at the net. I think he knew how much time there was and was trying to create a rebound or something. Unfortunate for [Steve] Mason that it hit their own guy, but we’ll take it.”

OK, but geometry jokes aside, what exactly happened on the goal from Stafford?

“I think just trying to create some space for myself instead of just throwing it in earlier. You can have a little bit more time so you can get a little bit more bodies to the net,” Stafford said. “If you’re skating across the blue line and you throw it on net or behind, you don’t really have anybody going. So, just kind of waiting for the drivers to pull up and I knew I had a few seconds left at least.”

And just like that, Stafford now has two goals and four points in four games for the Black and Gold.

A winger that’s played almost everywhere in those four games — Stafford has been the third line right wing, second line left wing, fourth line right and left wing, and even had some fill-in work on the first line depending on the situation — the Black and Gold have stuck to letting the 31-year-old Stafford work in an offense-first role that’s played to his strengths.

It’s worked out to Stafford directly playing a part in two wins for the Bruins, with the primary assist on a Ryan Spooner game-winning goal last week against the Devils, and of course, the goal on Saturday against the Flyers.

Said Stafford: “I’m just grateful for an opportunity to at least play in a little bit more of an offensive role where I think that I’m definitely comfortable wherever. I take a lot of pride in my offensive game and being able to contribute in any way I can. So yeah, it’s definitely kind of a shot in the arm to get an opportunity, at least, to play with some pretty good players here.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

He may not have been in the lineup for the last three games — and seven of the first 12 games coached by Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy since he took over for Claude Julien overall — but Matt Beleskey has been working hard.

“I haven’t been resting. I have been working out twice a day with our strength coaches and doing the extra work, putting in the time with the skills coach, it’s hard work,” Beleskey noted of his recent scratches. “It’s been tough, obviously it hasn’t been my year in that way but the coaches put some faith in me, gave me some time, worked me over and I’m just trying to make it pay off.”

Hard work may sound like a buzzword, but it really is the basis of his game. It’s what he needs to do at every turn to be at his most effective. It’s what he established for years in Anaheim, what made the Bruins hand him a five-year deal worth just under $20 million, and what his first year in Boston was full of as Beleskey became a dependable up-and-down the lineup option.

It’s what been, at times, missing from Beleskey’s hard luck second year in the Hub, too.

So when the 28-year-old Beleskey was given another chance to make an impact for Cassidy’s Bruins, this time because of an injury to Tim Schaller on Wednesday night, Beleskey needed all of one shift to do what he does best.

On a fourth line with Dominic Moore and Riley Nash to begin the afternoon affair, which ended as a 2-1 final for the Black and Gold, Beleskey put a big hit on the Flyers’ Shayne Gostisbehere, and answered the bell when Brandon Manning came looking for a fight as a means of retribution. And after a few wild swings, one of which landed Manning on his rear, Beleskey made his way to the box, but not before giving the Garden crowd a pump-up, with his arms raised towards the rafters.

The crowd noticed his instant effort, as did his coach.

“I loved his energy,” said Cassidy. “He came ready to play. It’s an area, an element of our team that he can certainly bring. We’ve got a lot of skill, we could use a little more sandpaper some nights. Against Philly, you generally need it. He took it to heart.”

“It’s good to play,” admitted Beleskey. “That’s what I want to do and help the team.”

The honesty was to be expected, as this has been a year to forget for Beleskey in a lot of ways.

Not only has No. 39 struggled to produce offensively — he’s scored just two goals and seven points in 36 games — but he’s also missed 23 games to a right knee injury. And the climb back to the lineup from both of those issues has not been an easy one, as Beleskey has battled the frustrations of not producing while also not being 100 percent, which is a combination that’s led to numerous reset buttons and two-a-days in the middle of the season.

Something the Ontario-born winger that posted a career-best 37 points with the B’s last season probably didn’t see coming.

But Beleskey’s game wasn’t just about the hit and subsequent fight.

As the game progressed, Beleskey was moved up to a third line with Nash at center and Drew Stafford on the right side. The line improved as the game went on — Beleskey had a net-front chance late in the third period — and earned the trust of Cassidy as they were deployed on a somewhat regular basis in a game in which Cassidy was not afraid to shorten his bench in crunch time.

It was that new-look line that was on the ice when the B’s scored the game-winning goal with less than six seconds left in the third period, as a Stafford shot was banked off Manning’s stick and through Steve Mason. The goal had an incredible element to luck of it, of course, but the 13:50 was Beleskey’s highest time on ice total since the coaching change, and finished the night with four hits and one shot on goal. But this was also the kind of game that called for additional ice time for a grind-it-out talent like No. 39.

This has been one of Cassidy’s strengths since taking over for Julien: He’s not afraid to make calls or take the temperature of a game and dole out the ice time accordingly. And it’s not lost on those who play for him, as they know expectations must be met.

“Coach Cassidy has been fair to guys in that way which when you play well you move up and when you don’t, you don’t play,” said Beleskey. “It’s kind of the way he does it. I’ve been on the other side. I think he’s pretty fair, he goes with the guys that are going to get the two points and tonight, luckily I played well enough that he put some faith in me and put me out there.”

“He can finish some plays, but he can also be an energy, physical player, and trouble found him later. He got the crowd into it with the fight against [Brandon] Manning, and he had some opportunities around the net,” Cassidy said of Beleskey’s heavy game in the winning effort. “I think those players, when they are physical and energetic, I think their whole game gets pulled along.”

Beleskey is still searching for his first point under Cassidy, but at that effort level, he knows that the chances will be there.

“Keep working hard and I think good things will happen,” said Beleskey. 

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins had to kill 1:43 of a 5-on-3 in their win over the Flyers. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins had to kill 1:43 of a 5-on-3 in their win over the Flyers. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

On an odd-man rush heading towards Tuukka Rask, first-year pro defenseman Brandon Carlo made the goal-saving decision to hook Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds. 17 seconds after that, Brad Marchand was whistled for a high-stick on Shayne Gostisbehere.

In less than 20 seconds, the Bruins were down their defender who logs the second-most shorthanded time on ice among B’s defensemen and the winger on their go-to penalty-killing forward pairing.

Against a power play featuring Claude Giroux, Gostisbehere, and Simmonds, that’s by all means a goal against and an 0-1 hole.

But the Bruins instead buckled down, paid the price, and successfully leaned on their remaining shorthanded talents to make the kill.

In 1:43 of action against Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask, the Flyers put seven shots on net, and that number would have been higher had it not been for two key blocks from Adam McQuaid, who was tasked with squaring up against Giroux on the kill.

“It’s part of penalty killing, especially 5-on-3 that you’re doing everything that you can to block shots and have your stick in passing lanes,” McQuaid nonchalantly said after the win, the club’s 10th in 13 games under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. “It’s not a favorable position to be in so you’re kind of just not necessarily in desperation mode, you kind of have to be in control but at the same time you’re doing whatever you can to kill that time off.”

A message and mindset echoed by the team’s 39-year-old captain.

“You do whatever you have to do and sacrifice,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said of the blocks on the kill. “Obviously, blocking shots, having good stick, do whatever you can to prevent them from using their number one or two plays and try to take that away from them. Obviously, be compact, and every time you have a chance to clear, you just clear and waste some time.”

In one of the worst situations they could have found themselves in late in the period, the Bruins got contributions from everybody — with big blocks, faceoff wins, and a box-out of sorts — which kept the Flyers from doing much of anything against Rask.

“Well, our penalty kill has been rock solid all year,” Cassidy said. “It always starts with the goaltender. Tuukka was great, under control on those, was able to be square to rebounds. [Zdeno Chara] generally stays out there the whole time, big stick, and McQuaid ate pucks when they did change sides on us, and Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] is Bergy. He does a great job of it. Dom [Dominic Moore] got a little piece at the end. So, again, guys that we’ve relied on all year in our five-on-three.”

In addition to the McQuaid blocks, which effectively took Giroux out of the equation from a shooting standpoint, Philly was left to take low-percentage looks from Jakub Voracek from 50 feet out, while Simmonds was held to just two net-front chances, where he’s made his living, with 41 power-play goals (second-most in the NHL behind Alex Ovechkin) since the start of the 2014 season.

“At some point, you’re going to give up something. They’re two guys more than you are, so obviously, it’s about trying to take away the most dangerous plays,” Patrice Bergeron, who won his two defensive-zone draws during the penalty kill, admitted. “He made some huge saves in that five-on-three and we were able to kill that off which was big for us.”

“A few nice blocks and then we kept them on the perimeter as much as we could,” Rask said of the tone-setting kill. “It’s all about being smart and eliminating the worst possible scoring chance that you get. I think we did that.”

It was almost immediately after the kill that the Bruins were gifted a power play of their own, and connected on a David Pastrnak goal, which gave the B’s a 1-0 edge through 20 minutes and likely prevented the B’s from a potential second period freefall.

With two successful kills on the afternoon, the Bruins bumped their season penalty kill to 86.0 percent, which is the second best mark in the league, and just 0.6 percentage points off from the best mark in the entire NHL.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

It took 13 games, but the Bruins finally let one of their bad habits established under Claude Julien creep back into their game.

A new third line formed in-game wound up scoring the winning goal Saturday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

A new third line formed in-game wound up scoring the winning goal Saturday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Teams that shuffle lines a lot are generally teams that aren’t playing well. They shuffle lines because nothing’s really clicking, because they can’t score goals, because they’re losing. Teams that are winning and scoring generally just stick with what’s working — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The Bruins have been winning and scoring since Bruce Cassidy took over from Claude Julien, but they’ve also been changing up their lines quite a bit, both on a game-to-game basis as well as in-game. Part of that has been out of necessity. Ryan Spooner (concussion) and Tim Schaller (lower body) are both currently unavailable, and trade deadline pickup Drew Stafford was naturally going to get some looks in a couple different spots.

But part of it has also been the fact that Cassidy simply doesn’t feel the need to settle on anything definitive, at least not yet.

“It happened to work out (Saturday), and I think you’ll see more of that, and you have since day one, moving people around in game,” Cassidy said. “And listen, when we find the best formula, we’ll keep it that way, but we’re still tinkering.”

As he has a handful of times in his 13 games as head coach, Cassidy shuffled his lines mid-game Saturday. After a bad second period (the Bruins mustered just four shots on goal in the frame), he moved Frank Vatrano up to the second line with David Krejci and David Pastrnak, moved Stafford from left wing over to his natural right wing, and bumped Matt Beleskey (who had been a healthy scratch in five of the previous six games) up to a newfound third line with Stafford and Riley Nash.

Cassidy also bumped Kevan Miller up to the top defense pairing with Zdeno Chara for the third period, and he experimented with using the same power-play unit for a full two minutes a couple times.

On a few previous occasions that Cassidy switched up lines mid-game, it didn’t seem to create any significant spark. A couple times were games the Bruins were already losing and went on to lose. But on Saturday, the new lines definitely helped spark a strong third period for the B’s.

The changes certainly weren’t the only reason the Bruins turned things around, but they were a factor. Vatrano seemed to give the Krejci line new life, and that trio created a few good chances in the third. Meanwhile, the new third line ended up scoring the winning goal. While Stafford’s game-winner with 5.6 seconds to go was a bit of a fluke in and of itself — it was a long wrister that deflected in off Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning — that line had put together a good shift leading up to it, including flipping the ice from their own zone to the offensive zone.

“I think it kind of, sometimes, gives some energy to different guys or different lines when things are not necessarily going the way you want them to,” Patrice Bergeron said. “I think when you’re not creating or generating enough chances, a tweak here and there can give you that boost, I guess, to be better and, I guess, simplify your game as a line. I think you saw that tonight.”

Going forward, it still may be a little bit before the Bruins settle on four clear, consistent lines, if they do that at all. They’re still figuring out where Stafford fits best and the eventual returns of Spooner and Schaller will throw two players who have been regulars this season back into the mix. On top of that, this is a team that has some depth and versatility up front.

Nash, Dominic Moore and Austin Czarnik can all play center or wing. Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes have both had disappointing seasons and found themselves watching from the press box more than they’d like, but both are still capable of at least being perfectly fine fourth-liners.

So the Bruins have pieces that can be moved around, especially on the third and fourth lines, and until Cassidy falls in love with one lineup, he’s going to move them around.

Blog Author: 
Scott McLaughlin
The Bruins and Flyers wrapped up their season series today at TD Garden.  (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins and Flyers wrapped up their season series today at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

It took 13 games, but the Bruins finally let one of their bad habits established under Claude Julien creep back into their game.

Squared up against the 11th-place Flyers in a Saturday matinee (a start time that’s been surprisingly kind to the B’s this season), it was the Flyers that were able to control the pace for the full 60 minutes against Bruce Cassidy’s B’s. But somehow, someway, it was the Bruins that pulled this win out of their behinds thanks to a last-second Drew Stafford marker tallied in a 2-1 final at TD Garden.

It was a game that spoke to the Cassidy magic that’s taken hold of this team, as they’re never quite out of it, no matter how ugly it may look.

And don’t kid yourself, today was ugly.

The Bruins likely had no business carrying a lead into the first intermission. It required a 103-second-long, 3-on-5 penalty-kill — and against the supreme power-play assassin likes of Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Shayne Gostisbehere — from the Bruins, which they accomplished thanks to key blocks from Adam McQuaid and a mammoth shift from captain Zdeno Chara.

On the power play just 41 seconds after the kill came to an end, the Bruins made Travis Konecny pay for a trip that caught Colin Miller down from behind as Miller wheeled out of his own end.

It was then that a dump-and-chase actually worked for a Boston power play that was repeatedly stood up at the attacking blue.

Dumped in by David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand outworked Andrew MacDonald behind the Flyers net, which pressured the puck towards Patrice Bergeron and then back to Pastrnak for a soft-touch goal banked in against Steve Mason at 18:38 of the first. In a period in which the B’s were outshot 14-to-11, and significantly out-chanced by the Flyers (Simmonds may have had more legitimate chances against Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask than the entire Bruins roster had against Mason in the period), the Bruins held an unlikely lead that didn’t seem like it would last long given the feeling on one bench versus the other.

It didn’t.

Just 1:27 into the second period, and with the Black and Gold drowned in their own zone (a theme of the period if there ever was one), it was Jordan Weal that put a loose puck through Brandon Carlo’s legs and into Rask’s net for the game-tying tally.

It didn’t get much better for the Bruins for the rest of the period, either, as they were outshot 9-to-4 in the middle stanza. Their first shot didn’t come until 8:45 into the period, too, when Miller was able to bomb a 40-foot slapper in on Mason. And when the Bruins were given the chance they converted on in the first period, with Weal called for a hook with just 3:11 left in the period, the Bruins could not pull another rabbit out of their hand, as their power play flubbed for a few missed shots and zero shots on goal.

Cassidy realized that things weren’t going well for his team long before the do-nothing power play opportunity, as the interim bench boss put his lines in a blender — Drew Stafford was dropped down with Riley Nash and Matt Beleskey, while Frank Vatrano moved up to a line with David Krejci and Pastrnak — and this is far from the first time this has happened, too.

In 13 games under Cassidy, the Bruins have outscored their opponents 14-to-12 in the second period. That’s a positive differential — the Bruins entered play with a league-leading plus-19 goal differential since Cassidy took over — but when compared to their first and third (and overtime) period totals, where they’ve outscored the opposition 31-to-14, it’s a tougher look. Especially when you see that this was their fourth second period in which they’ve put just six shots or fewer on the opposition’s net.

So perhaps the Bruins were equally lucky to escape that period simply tied as they were to escape the first period with a lead.

But as the teams shifted to what felt like a playoff series third period — complete with dueling ‘Let’s Go Bruins’ and ‘Let’s Go Flyers’ chants from the sellout Garden crowd — the Bruins seemed to get back to somewhat equal footing with the Flyers, with numerous chances from their points a chance from a net-driving Beleskey, these teams seemed primed for overtime.

Philly defenseman Brandon Manning had other plans.

On a low-percentage chance shot from Stafford along the wall and with a defender on him, the low, gliding shot appeared redirected off Manning and through Manning for the game-winning goal for the B’s 10th win in 13 games under Cassidy.

The Bruins will head back to the Pacific coast for a Monday matchup against the Canucks.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

There’s never a ‘good’ time to deal with a rash of injuries. But there probably hasn’t been a time where the Bruins have been better equipped to handle multiple injuries than they are right now.

Tim Schaller will miss Saturday's game against the Flyers. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Tim Schaller will miss Saturday’s game against the Flyers. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

There’s never a ‘good’ time to deal with a rash of injuries. But there probably hasn’t been a time where the Bruins have been better equipped to handle multiple injuries than they are right now.

Already down center Ryan Spooner, who suffered a concussion in the third period of Monday’s loss in Ottawa, the Bruins lost utility forward Tim Schaller early in the first period of their 6-1 win over the Red Wings on Wednesday when Schaller went feet-first into the boards.

Absent from Friday’s practice at TD Garden, too, Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy has confirmed that the 26-year-old Schaller will miss tomorrow’s matinee game against the Flyers.

“Lower-body, he’s unavailable tomorrow,” Cassidy said of Schaller. “We’ll reassess going forward after that. We’ll see how it plays out.”

A fixture on the B’s fourth line with Dominic Moore and Riley Nash, Schaller has recorded seven goals and 14 points in 58 games (all NHL bests in what’s been the New Hampshire native’s breakout pro season after two cups of coffee with the Sabres over the last two years), the Bruins have multiple options when it comes to left-side options in his absence.

“Well we have [Matt] Beleskey and [Peter] Cehlarik and they’re both left shots, so we have options there,” said Cassidy, who has scratched Beleskey for three straight games and Cehlarik for one. “We’ll make that decision tomorrow.”

These things are always subject to change, especially under Cassidy, but it was Beleskey — who has played in just five of 12 games since Cassidy took over for Claude Julien — that appeared to get the first look in Schaller’s place, as he took the first rushes with Moore and Nash during Friday’s skate in Boston. It’s been a messy year for the 28-year-old Beleskey, who has tallied just two goals and seven points in 36 games this season, but his desire and work ethic to get back into action has always been there.

Added Cassidy: “Beleskey’s been working hard. He’s a guy that can help us.”

But Cassidy did not shut the door on the possibility of Cehlarik being the one to step into the lineup tomorrow.

“I think it was beneficial for [Cehlarik] to go upstairs and watch a game,” said Cassidy.

The 21-year-old Cehlarik has averaged over 14 minutes per game in his 10 NHL games — mainly played on a line with David Krejci and David Pastrnak — and has totaled two assists (both in the same game) and zero goals on eight shots on net.

“We’re not down on Peter. Like a lot of young guys, puck management is crucial,” Cassidy noted of Cehlarik’s struggles. “Just being heavier and harder around it, on it, at it against men is a learning curve and he’ll have to go through it.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Brad Marchand has put himself in the MVP discussion this season.</p>
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