The Bruins improved to 3-0-0 under Bruce Cassidy with Sunday's win over the Canadiens. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins improved to 3-0-0 under Bruce Cassidy with Sunday’s win over the Canadiens. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

If you closed your eyes and just listened to the crowd at tonight’s season-series finale between the Bruins and Canadiens, you would have thought you had been transported back to the better days of 2011.

At the 5:08 mark of the second period of the game, which ended as a 4-0 victory for the Black and Gold, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara pulled out a beautiful move and beat Canadiens netminder Carey Price upstairs for a shorthanded goal, and the building began to shake.

In what was (fittingly enough) Chara’s first shorty since 2011, Chara showed the raw emotion seldom seen from the B’s captain of 11 years — at least in recent seasons of the franchise’s fall back to the middle of the NHL pack, anyways. His celebratory scream, a former trademark of No. 33, was echoed by those from the crowd, and backed up with the sing-song ‘Ca-rey’ chant that hasn’t been heard in this building in any sort of meaningful manner in over five years.

It was a statement from Big Z that his club was not going to down without a fight.

Not to this team, and not for the 10th time in as many visits to Boston.

And a statement from a Hub fanbase that’s not yet ready to wave the towel on their season.

Not when the team plays with this passion.

The Bruins opened up the game’s scoring just 8:57 when one of the club’s other defense-first defenders, Adam McQuaid, joined the attack and one-timed his second goal of the season home through Price, and with the assist to Peter Cehlarik and Torey Krug.

It a case of what-else-is-new, too, as the Bruins were tested early and often by the Canadiens, especially in a first period that came with a 3-on-5 penalty kill for 1:37 for the Bruins. With the 6-foot-9 Chara out there for the entire kill, the Bruins limited the Canadiens to absolutely nothing throughout the kill, and the crowd was alive.

But as you waited for the other shoe to drop, as it tends to in Bruins-Canadiens showdowns, Cassidy’s Bruins kept the pressure on the Canadiens, and made them pay when Alex Radulov hooked Chara late in the second period.

It was then that David Krejci finished off a beautiful power-play goal with touches from Cehlarik, and a net-front pass out to an open Krejci for No. 46’s 14th goal of the season, and a 3-0 lead through 40 minutes of action.

That still wasn’t enough for the Bruins, however, as Frank Vatrano extended their lead to four with his eighth goal of the season.

Every time the Canadiens tried to come at the Bruins with something, their defense, and especially their last line of defense, goaltender Tuukka Rask, who stopped every shot thrown his way, were there to shut prime opportunities down.

Under Cassidy, the Bruins have opened things up in the attacking zone — and that showed, with another night of at least four goals, including another two from defensemen that have been urged to join the attack.

But it was on Sunday that Cassidy’s system showed the B’s ability to tighten up when they needed to without sacrificing offensive chances the other way, as the Bruins held the Habs to just 25 shots while they peppered 36 of their own on the Habs’ Price.

The Habs’ top stars — Radulov, Max Pacioretty, and noted Bruins Killer Brendan Gallagher — were held to a whisper in this game. The Canadiens’ desire to cause trouble, too — be it from Andrew Shaw’s early fight with Torey Krug, Nathan Beaulieu’s cheap spear on Chara, or some late-game run-ins on Rask’s crease — were met with the style and physicality that became this team’s signature during the height of their runs towards playoff hockey.

Runs that seem possible with the effort put forth since Cassidy’s promotion.

And an effort that started with their 39-year-old captain tonight, too.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

It didn’t take long for Torey Krug and Andrew Shaw to set the tone for Sunday’s showdown between the Bruins and Canadiens.

In the final matchup between the two, Krug and Shaw dropped the gloves just 58 seconds into the first period, and brought the TD Garden crowd to life. The fight also appeared to pump referee Wes McCauley up quite a bit, too.

At least when it came to his penalty announcement to the sellout crowd in Boston.

The fight was obvious carryover from the last meeting between the Bruins and Habs, when Krug rocked Shaw up high with a hit.

 

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Over a foot of snow is coming to Boston. So are the Canadiens.

And at this point, I’m not sure which visit the Hub dreads more.

Tuukka Rask gets the start for the Bruins tonight vs. the Canadiens. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Tuukka Rask gets the start for the Bruins tonight vs. the Canadiens. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Over a foot of snow is coming to Boston. So are the Canadiens.

And at this point, I’m not sure which visit the Hub dreads more.

In what’s become a one-sided rivalry if there ever was one, at least when it comes to games played in Massachusetts, the Canadiens come to TD Garden tonight riding a nine-game road winning streak over the Bruins. The last B’s home win over the hated Habs, which came all the way back on Jan. 12, 2012 in case you don’t remember, was the night that the Canadiens traded their best scorer (Michael Cammalleri) in the middle of the game, too. So, at least that was nice of them.

But with the ‘fresh start’ that’s come with the hiring of interim head coach Bruce Cassidy for a lot of players in this roster, the Bruins will turn to Tuukka Rask in search of another one of those, and the necessary strong finale before the club’s long-awaited bye week begins on Monday.

One that doesn’t happen without that aforementioned fresh start against the club’s top rival.

Rask’s career figures against the Habs, even after a 30-of-31 performance in an overtime win over the club in last head-to-head, are damn near haunting. In 25 games against the Canadiens, the 29-year-old Rask has just six wins and a .912 save percentage. The numbers are even worse on Rask’s home ice, as he comes into action with an 0-9-3 record and .890 save percentage, and 3.25 goals against average in 12 games. His last home start against the Canadiens was actually the 2016 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium, too, where he allowed five goals on 30 shots in what was one of the uglier no-shows from last year’s Bruins team.

Naturally, this has led to some straight-up incredible numbers against the Bruins for Rask’s opponent tonight, Carey Price.

Price, widely regarded as the best goaltender in the world (even with some noteworthy struggles this season), has recorded 24 wins and a .924 save percentage in 37 career games against the Black and Gold. Price has also recorded 11 wins and a .915 save percentage in 18 career games in Boston, including a 19-of-21 performance in his only prior road start against the Bruins this season, while the Canadiens as a team have not lost in Boston since Michel Therrien took over as the team’s head coach in 2013.

The great equalizer for both teams, however, are the recent struggles of both Rask and Price.

The 29-year-old Price has looked rough in his last two games (and against bad teams, too), with eight goals allowed on 51 shots faced between a loss to the Avalanche and an overtime win over the Coyotes. That ugly-looking win over the ‘Yotes put an end to a three-game skid for No. 31, as well, and he has just six wins and an .899 save percentage in 15 games in the calendar year.

It hasn’t much better for Rask, either, as a fatigued Rask has allowed three goals or more in 11 of his last 15 starts.

But with Rask resting on the bench for Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Canucks, Cassidy is hoping that he’ll get something closer to the solid No. 40 that was in the crease for stops on all but three of 26 shots against in Thursday’s 6-3 win over the Sharks.

A win tonight would give the Bruins a split in their season series against the Canadiens, and it would be their first non-losing season series wrap against the Habs since the 2011-12 season where they bested the ‘CH’ in four of six meetings.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

After the club’s 6-3 decimation of the Sharks in Bruce Cassidy’s coaching debut on Thursday, the 51-year-old Cassidy talked about his desire for the team to err on the side of aggression, especially when it came to offense and plays made from their defense.

Anton Khudobin made 29 saves for his second win of the season. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Anton Khudobin made 29 saves for his second win of the season. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

It’s been so long since Anton Khudobin tasted victory at the NHL level that you actually understood how or why his brain went on auto-pilot and sang a familiar refrain after Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Canucks.

“Winning sucks,” Khudobin, who stopped 29-of-32 shots in the win, his first since Dec. 1, said. “I mean, losing sucks.”

Khudobin winning just his second game of a season all the way on Feb. 11 — and in a season that’s come with unexpected stops and starts in Boston, the waiver wire, and Providence — is not how second-year Bruins GM Don Sweeney drew it up when he signed Khudobin to a two-year deal on the first day of free agency last summer.

But like most of the struggling pieces of this Bruins group, the firing of Claude Julien and insertion of Bruce Cassidy as the team’s interim head coach has come with a proverbial fresh start, and one that Khudobin undoubtedly took advantage of when called upon.

“Very strong game,” Cassidy said of Khudobin’s performance against the equally desperate Canucks. “Certainly gave us a chance to win, we had a number of breakdowns in front of him that led to quality chances that he was there to make the save on.  So I’m very happy for him, he’s worked hard on his game and you know we scored a goal late for him to get the win.”

In a year rife with bad goals against, the 30-year-old Khudobin was dealt early-game hard luck when it he came up with the initial stop on a 3-on-1 when he stoned Jannik Hansen, but was hit with a goal against as Bo Horvat buried a rebound that was not cleared. The Bruins rallied around Khudobin, however, with two goals to finish the period, and a carried a lead into the second.

Khudobin then stood on his head in the middle period, as the Bruins were outshot 15-to-3, but were once again burned by some bad luck, as Khudobin’s great stops were by all means negated when he allowed Alex Burrows to score a bad-angle goal with just :00.6 left in the period. Both goals were oddly fitting and perfectly encapsulated all that has been Khudobin’s season.

“I just focused on my game, to be honest,” Khudobin said of his mindset going into this game, which could have likely determined his status with the club moving forward, especially with Andrew Hammond hitting the waiver wire earlier in the day. “I was like, don’t think about anything. I have a game, there is the rush, there are the players, I have to see the shot, I have to stop the shot.”

Some of Khudobin’s struggles crept into his game throughout the night, of course, and Markus Granlund’s late game-tying goal exposed that, as it was a shot and a goal that Khudobin would obviously like to have back.

But when given the offensive support, the typically jocular netminder stood tall, and earned the first win by a B’s backup netminder since the aforementioned Dec. 1 win over the Hurricanes, and now gives the Bruins six of a possible 28 points in games decided by their trio of backups to have skated this year (Khudobin, Zane McIntyre, and Malcolm Subban).

“We didn’t have his back in a number of situations where he was playing well and we probably should have been playing better in front of him and, you know, it was unfortunate but he had a great game,” Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller said of Khudobin’s early season struggles taking him out of the mix. “Dobby had a great game. He played great for us and it was a good win for him.”

With a schedule still heavy on back-to-backs (they have four more over the final 25 games), the Bruins know they’ll need to rely on Khudobin again, and that they’ll be in good shape if efforts like Saturday’s game against the Canucks become the norm.

“Let’s be funny and sarcastic: Hopefully I’m going to get the third win earlier than the second,” Khudobin joked. 

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The B's new-look third line is worthy of an extended look. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The B’s new-look third line with Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano as Ryan Spooner’s wingers is worth an extended look. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Frank Vatrano to the left, Ryan Spooner in the middle, and Jimmy Hayes on the right. Unless it’s a faceoff, in which case Hayes moves to the middle and then retreats back into a winger situation while Spooner moves back to the middle once the puck is dropped.

What I just described to you is likely the stuff of Claude Julien’s nightmares. But it’s also the current third line iced by interim B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy in both of his games behind the bench.

It was in Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Canucks, too, that the unlikely trio chipped in with some key contributions for the Black and Gold.

Their first goal came with a three-zone effort that started with a battle win, transition, and the little things that often go unnoticed (but clearly didn’t by Cassidy) but allowed defenseman Kevan Miller to join the rush as a shooting option and the eventual goal scorer.

“Well the capsule of that goal, Vatrano winning a puck against the wall, Spooner coming underneath with speed out of the neutral zone, Hayes driving the net and the D coming late,” Cassidy said of their impact on the first goal. “These are things we’ve asked and we’re going to ask that line to do on a regular basis and that should help them create offense. That was a great reward for them.”

Vatrano, with the help of a straight-up pretty pass from David Krejci, put the Bruins on the board with their first lead of the night before the period was over, too, with his fifth power-play goal of the season (and his seventh goal overall).

And it was a smart drop-back pass from Hayes on Colin Miller’s third period goal — a play in which Hayes took a hit to make the pass happen — that allowed the Bruins to keep pace with the Canucks and actually push the pace further in their favor.

“Jimmy did a great job,” Miller, whose celebration said it all on an absolute cannon of a shot, admitted with a smile. he kind of just laid it out there for me, so I pretty much walked into it from the blue line. So, had a lot of time to get it off.”

Under Julien, Hayes was used exclusively as a fourth-liner, but was also relegated to the press box as the club’s 13th forward on a somewhat regular basis. It was the complete wrong fit for him when he was playing, too, as the Hayes the B’s acquired from the Panthers was one that found success when he was skating as the third piece to a speedy combination. Expecting Hayes to be a fourth-line mucker that grinds it out along the walls would work for a game or two, but it was never the right fit for the long haul, and it showed as he fell out of favor for, well, not being great at those things on a game-to-game basis.

It hasn’t taken long for Cassidy to give Hayes a new start and doing it with a combo that makes more sense for No. 11.

Jimmy can complement speed and will get to the net for shooters so it seemed like a good fit with [Ryan] Spooner and [Frank] Vatrano and so far I think it’s worked out well, it’s a small sample size,” said Cassidy. “If he’s going to find his game, I think that’s a line that we are trying to put him in a position to be successful and I think so far he’s responded very well.”

There is one problem with this line, however, and it comes back to their ability to play defense. In essence, they can’t. Spooner has never been known as a defensive-minded center (and his inability to win faceoffs doesn’t help), Vatrano is still learning the nuances of a 200-foot game, and Hayes has always been a player that benefits from offensive-zone starts and chances.

But they’re improving little by little, or at the very least has not yet led to Cassidy becoming obsessed with their matchups.

“I thought defensively they were solid for the most part, we’ll look at it a little closer but there was no apprehension calling their name out and throwing them out on the ice tonight,” Cassidy said. “That will only ingratiate themselves with their teammates, with the coaching staff, when they can contribute offensively, solid defensively, play a 200-foot game.”

“It’s just having confidence, when you get stuck in the defensive zone, you got to have confidence in yourself, you know you can play against guys, just stick to the simple things, get pucks out, be hard on pucks and if you can get the puck down in their own end,” Hayes said. “Like Torey [Krug] said before you know sometimes the best defense is your own peoples offense.”

Offense that the trio brought to the table in just their second game together.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins beat the Canucks at the Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins beat the Canucks at the Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

After the club’s 6-3 decimation of the Sharks in Bruce Cassidy’s coaching debut on Thursday, the 51-year-old Cassidy talked about his desire for the team to err on the side of aggression, especially when it came to offense and plays made from their defense.

And this was just another run of the Miller afternoon at TD Garden in that regard, as the Bruins defeated the visiting Canucks by a 4-3 final.

In the second game of a three games in four nights stretch that will determine the fate of their season (and with their bye week on the horizon), the Black and Gold knew that aggression was going to be the name of the game against a Canucks team in a similar situation as the Bs, with points a must to keep their playoff hopes out West alive.

But that’s a mindset and situation that suits Cassidy’s philosophies as a head coach. Even when you accept the hiccups that come with it.

And were they ever present in this one.

The Canucks scored first when a disastrous David Pastrnak turnover allowed the Canucks to have a 3-on-1 the other way, and although Anton Khudobin stopped the initial shot, miscommunication in front of the B’s net allowed Bo Horvat to collect and pot the rebound home for his 16th goal of the season, scored just 4:56 into the first period.

It was the sleepy first that haunted the Bruins many times throughout Claude Julien’s 10th year in town.

Except now, and again, with aggression the name of the game, it didn’t take long for the Bruins to wake up.

At 13:33 of the first, it was Kevan Miller that ripped home his second goal of the season on a decision to join the rush up ice. With Ryan Spooner to the left and Jimmy Hayes driving to the net, Miller was able to sneak in on the right side and blast a one-time shot that beat Ryan Miller upstairs. For the Bruins’ Miller, it was the near perfect execution of what Cassidy has preached.

And when the Bruins were on a late-period power play, it was Frank Vatrano, off a brilliant feed from David Krejci, that pushed the Bruins out to a 2-1 lead through 20 minutes of action behind his seventh goal of the season (and his fifth on the power play).

But, again, as was the case in so many Julien games this year, the Bruins fell back asleep once the lead was theirs in the middle frame, as they were outshot 15-to-3, and were victimized by an actual last-second goal from Alex Burrows.

Scored with 00:00.6 left in the period, the Burrows goal was the deserved finish to a finger-biting middle frame in the Hub.

That snapped in a dominant third period, however, as Colin Miller matched the Canucks with a bomb of his own, and edged the Bruins back out to a lead. Markus Granlund made it even again at 3-3 on the power play.

But then, with two minutes left, it was Pastrnak, at the end of a game that came with turnover after turnover for the ultra-talented Czech winger, that atoned for his mistakes with a goal scored with just 2:00 left in the third period.

And as the Canucks whiffed on a goal line drive with less than a minute left, it was the Bruins that hung on behind a 29-of-32 performance behind the always-aggressive Khudobin for his first win since Dec. 1 against the Hurricanes.

When you look at this game, it’s easy to state the obvious — it was a sleepy, at times nightmarish, mess. The Bruins were frequently over-aggressive, and were pinned in for prolonged stretches. But at the same time, it was that aggression and pace that allowed the Bruins to stay afloat and respond with goals and plays when they were there to be made.

It’s worked for the Bruins so far, though, as that’s two wins in two games under Cassidy.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Zdeno Chara was back at Bruins practice on Friday. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

Zdeno Chara was back at Bruins practice on Friday. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

A big presence, in both the physical and in-the-locker-room sense, returned to Bruins practice at Warrior Ice Arena in Zdeno Chara.

Absent from practice on both Tuesday and Wednesday, and out of last night’s game against the Sharks with an illness, the 6-foot-9 Chara was on the ice on Friday for his first practice since the firing of Claude Julien. That’s significant and insignificant all in one.

Julien had been Chara’s coach since 2007. There was an obvious comfort there, and Chara, as the team captain, certainly served as the natural buffer between the players and Julien. That comfort was probably at times established and crept into the team practices, too, which have changed under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.

Under Cassidy, the Black and Gold have put a greater emphasis on practicing with speed, pace, and urgency. There’s been an added focus on skating, and with the belief that if you skate harder in practices, it will translate into a more effective pace in games.

So, does that create a problem for the 39-year-old top defender? Forgive me for silencing this heating take, but of course not.

The 51-year-old Cassidy was in charge of running the defense when he was first brought into the NHL staff this season as an assistant coach, so his teachings and focus are probably nothing new to the majority of those that play on the B’s backend.

One player even confirmed that as such, noting that the biggest difference, at least in practice, has been a bit more of a focus on looking up ice versus going D-to-D as the safe option that can sometimes allow the opposition to reset and regroup. You saw some of that in last night’s game, as well, as the B’s defenders were very aggressive when given the chance.

Back in his normal spot to the left of Brandon Carlo, Chara was up front about how he felt today versus earlier in the week.

“Feeling much better obviously than I did yesterday or even two or three days ago,” Chara admitted after the skate. “I just felt so fatigued and out of it that you would probably do more harm to yourself and obviously to the team.”

Chara also admitted that he should feel good to go for tomorrow’s 1 p.m. tilt against the Canucks.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Bruce Cassidy won in his debut as the head coach of the Bruins. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruce Cassidy, a lifelong Bruins fan, won in his debut as the head coach of the Bruins. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins boss Bruce Cassidy has waited a long time for a second chance as an NHL head coach. But to have it with the Bruins, an organization Cassidy has had an attachment to as a coach since 2008, but as a person his entire life, is something that’s made it worth the wait.

Named the interim head coach on the heels of Claude Julien’s firing on Tuesday, the 51-year-old gave himself a moment to reflect on the opportunity in front of him before Thursday’s 6-3 win over the Sharks.

“Well, when I went out to the bench, the first thing I did was look up at the banners – the Stanley Cup Championship banners – and you know, I’ve been a lifelong Boston Bruins fan since I was this high,” Cassidy, a defenseman drafted by the Blackhawks with the 18th overall pick back in 1983, said after the win. “My first pair of skates were black and gold and I’ve loved Bobby Orr ever since and I could probably name every player in those Stanley Cup teams and… I mean, I’ve had an attachment to the Bruins my whole life, so it’s a great honor for me to stand up there and look at the – and be in charge, so it was a great night that way.”

In one of their more inspired efforts of the season, Cassidy’s Bruins came at the Pacific-leading Sharks with aggression, a three-zone commitment, and finished the night with six goals (and tallies from five different scorers).

“The firing of a coach was a wakeup call for a lot of guys who needed to turn their games around and provide better efforts,” David Backes said. “We had that. Again, it was great to see, but it was one game. We need to verify this wasn’t a fluke on Saturday.”

There’s more work to be done, of course, but there’s no doubt that Cassidy is breathing a little easier after the pressure of Game 1.

“Who doesn’t enjoy a win?” Cassidy said. 

True as both a fan and a coach. Or in Cassidy’s case, both.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson