Happy Anniversary, Bruce Cassidy

What a difference a year makes. Exactly one year ago yesterday, the Boston Bruins hired Bruce Cassidy to take over as the team’s interim head coach in relief of Claude Julien. The Bruins were coming off two consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs and looked poised to miss it for a third straight year. When Cassidy took over, however, things were different. The team had more jump in their step and they showed a level of consistent effort that hadn’t been seen in a long time in Boston that ultimately resulted in a playoff bid.

Fast forward a year and the Bruins are not only continuing to play well as a team, but they’re within one point of holding the top spot in the NHL’s standings. After an incredible stretch of 18-straight games with a point, the Bruins have started a new streak of four consecutive wins immediately following that first regulation loss.

Bruce Cassidy Riley Nash Danton Heinen Bruins
Bruce Cassidy, Riley Nash and Danton Heinen, Boston Bruins, Dec. 2, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The win against the Rangers one year to the day after Cassidy was hired was an impressive one for the Bruins. Not because the Rangers have been doing well recently, because they haven’t. It was impressive, however, because the Bruins had lost their previous seven games against New York and proved Wednesday that they aren’t the same Bruins team that they once were.

Bruins Firing on All Cylinders

Though the Rangers got on the board first with a Rick Nash snipe past Anton Khudobin at the five-minute mark of the first period, the Bruins simply dominated from then on. Riley Nash scored his eighth of the season less than three minutes later with a solid effort from his linemates David Backes and Danton Heinen. A three-on-one break, retrieval of the puck and excellent positioning on the goal was symbolic of how well that line has played since being united this season.

Patrice Bergeron Bruins
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins, Dec. 2, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Zdeno Chara scored his fifth of the season from Jake DeBrusk roughly eight minutes later to give the Bruins their first lead of the night. It wasn’t until the second period that the game really took a turn for the worse for the Rangers, however, as the Bruins scored three goals (including a shorthanded bid from Patrice Bergeron for his second of the game) in 10 minutes to break the game open with a 5-1 score. Not to be lost in the mix, Tim Schaller’s highlight-reel goal that chased Henrik Lundqvist from the Rangers’ net was a sight to see.

Sean Kuraly would go on to score the lone goal of the third period to give the Bruins the 6-1 lead and ultimately cap off their victory.

The Bruins are playing the best hockey they’ve played in years and Cassidy deserves as much credit for it as anybody. While the team likely didn’t put much thought into this game being played on Cassidy’s anniversary, you wouldn’t be able to tell by how dominant they were all game. This has been the story of the season for the Bruins, though, who have given it their all in just about every game for the majority of this season. It’s a testament to the players on the team, but even more, it’s a testament to Cassidy for making things work so quickly.

Cassidy Making the Difference

Since taking over as the team’s head coach last season, Cassidy has led the Bruins to a record of 51-19-9 in 79 games. It’s been one of the best stories in hockey as the Bruins have looked like a totally new team under Cassidy compared to how they looked under Julien. While Julien is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in NHL history and potentially the best in Bruins’ history, his style simply wasn’t working for the Bruins anymore.

Cassidy’s uptempo style that encourages defenders to jump into the play more often has led to a high-scoring team that hasn’t given an inch defensively, giving up the fewest goals per game in the league.

(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

To be fair, Cassidy’s team also features a plethora of rookies who have excelled this season and have been a huge part of making this team as good as it’s been. In that same vein, however, Cassidy deserves just as much credit for these rookies having so much success in the lineup as they do for having the success itself.

It isn’t easy to be a rookie in a professional sport. It also isn’t easy to coach a rookie as consistency is always something to monitor due to the steep learning curve. It becomes even more difficult when a coach has to work with five or six rookies on any given night. For Cassidy, however, it’s looked easy.

Cassidy has been among the league’s best coaches since taking over in Boston, and while year one has been good, Cassidy would love to kick off year two with a deep playoff run and a Stanley Cup victory. It won’t be easy, but this Bruins’ team might be the most exciting one that’s graced Causeway street in decades.