Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Bruins 4, Maple Leafs 1: A team in every sense of the word

Ty Anderson
February 03, 2018 - 11:31 pm

Does this weekend feel familiar at all? Not by its exact date, but in terms of what it is, and what it was a year ago.

It was a year ago this weekend (again, contextually), and on the eve of the Super Bowl, that the Bruins played one of their worst games of the Claude Julien era in a 6-5 loss to the Maple Leafs. Despite the five-goal output, it was as lifeless a game as the Bruins could have played. They were disjointed, lazy when it came to their three-zone efforts, and playing the kind of straight-up selfish, me-first hockey that gets you nowhere. Julien, of course, was relieved of his duties following the Super Bowl, and Bruce Cassidy took over as the team’s head coach.

And in Saturday’s moment that saw Cassidy conclude his informative and often humorous press conference -- this one after a 4-1 win over an Atlantic rival trying to do their part to catch the Black and Gold for the No. 2 spot -- with a hand clap and a “Go Pats!” cheer, the culture change around this franchise could not have been more apparent.  

What a difference a year -- headlined by Cassidy’s B’s winning 49 of his first 77 games behind the bench -- makes.

But this goes beyond jovial press conferences and soundbites to amp up the local team.

Now established as one of the absolute best teams in the league, the B’s are obviously an entirely different team from what the Leafs beat up on in last year’s Super Bowl weekend meeting, and it begins with the veteran leadership that Cassidy has (successfully) asked to take on more of a hands-on approach with the club’s youth.

When the Maple Leafs tied things up off a double-deflection that began with a bounce off Sean Kuraly’s stick and then banked in off Charlie McAvoy’s obvious misplay, it was Tuukka Rask that immediately went over to McAvoy with a simple stick-tap and a word of encouragement. This is a far cry from the old hands-up, what-the-bleep-are-you-doing reactions that made Rask the target of largely unfounded ‘bad teammate’ labels.

“I think it’s just another sign of what you’re seeing inside of our club, and in that particular case outside, but there’s a lot of that going on,” Cassidy said of Rask’s 'help' after the goal against. “Guys are working hard for one another, have each other’s backs.”

And in that moment, the simple message undoubtedly helped the 20-year-old rookie.

“[Rask]’s a great teammate,” McAvoy said. “Unbelievable teammate and an unbelievable player. I’m kind of feeling a little upset there, it’s a bounce you can’t really control, but to have him come and tap me on the pads there and say ‘Hey, no worries, it’s fine,’ that meant a lot to me as far as focusing and getting back into the game.”

“I was asked a question a while ago about what came first: the chemistry or the winning? I think it was the chemistry. You could see it earlier in the year. It didn’t result automatically in wins, but you could see our guys pulling for one another, and when we got healthy and started playing the way we wanted to. You see that up and down the lineup. Guys are happy for each other,” Cassidy added. “Even like Frank Vatrano, a shift late where he broke up a breakaway pass by having a good stick and covering for a late change, and the guys on the bench were [happy for him], you know – it’s a little thing you don’t see on the scoreboard, but there’s a lot of that going on. Getting back to that for Tuukka, he’s a leader on this team, and it was good to see him do that.”

But they’re little things that lead to scoreboard-altering moves, as the Bruins came through with a response midway through the second period on a David Pastrnak power-play goal created off Ron Hainsey’s inability to track down a loose puck.

The goal, of course, came in between some straight-up sensational saves at Rask’s end, which were all capped with a stick tap and encouragement from a teammate.

“Unreal in the second period,” Cassidy said of Rask. “That’s one that could be a swing in the game right there, could’ve given them a lot of life. It gives us some juice, a big save like that. We want to go get him a goal right after that. I didn’t think he was too busy to the point where he had to stand on his head, but that was a stand-on-your-head type save, and it was very, very timely. Like I said, that’s a big difference in the game.”

From there, the Bruins built their lead on a late-period power-play goal from Torey Krug, and sealed the deal on a full-ice empty-netter from Tim Schaller in the third period.

Not blind to the standings and the noise around this meeting, the Bruins knew the importance of this game given the probability of these teams meeting in round one, along with their unsuccessful cracks against this upstart Toronto team (they entered play with losses in six straight head-to-heads against the Maple Leafs).

But it didn’t force them to cave in, choke up on their sticks and shoot pucks six-feet wide of the net, or even come close to deviating from what’s made them successful.

It was just the opposite, in fact.

“We knew what was going on in here,” Krug said after the win. “We’ve had a lot of close games with them, overtime games, where we couldn’t get over the hump. But it feels good obviously to win one here in regulation and get the job done.”

So, actually, I suppose this weekend shouldn’t feel familiar at all.

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