Three Reasons Why Boston is Playing With Rekindled Fire
We’re talking, of course, in terms of the veteran’s record as the Boston Bruins’ interim coach, a position he has held since Feb. 7. That record now sits at 3-0 as Cassidy and Co. enjoy their bye week. And while a trio of games bears only so much weight, there is no denying that Boston, now 29-23-6 and within arm’s reach of the Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division, has been rejuvenated under Bruce’s watch.
The issues that led to the Bruins’ dismissal of Claude Julien, the latest in a long line of coaches ousted during the season in recent NHL history, stretched far beyond the two-game losing streak that preceded Cassidy’s takeover. And yet, in a short span of time, the newly guided Bruins appear as well oiled as could be considering the circumstances.
Why? How? In the end, the answers to those questions may not lift the Bruins to playoff status, let alone keep Cassidy’s brief win streak from snapping. But they are certainly keeping this particular Atlantic contender afloat.
Here are three reasons Cassidy’s Bruins are playing with a new identity:
1. All bets are off with players’ roles
It’d be one thing if the Cassidy-led Bruins simply upped their game in the wake of Julien’s departure. But what’s driven Boston’s three-game surge more than, say, elite production is a sudden prioritization of depth. It’s not like the team’s roster was dumped and replaced when Cassidy took over, but the shuffling of roles has had a ripple effect of success.
We’re talking about Cassidy’s unflinching willingness to adjust lineups, which has spawned some questions regarding seemingly unusual veteran pairings but also has Boston on a promising three-game tear. A recent shutout from goalie Tuukka Rask certainly helped. But what’s really fueled the momentum has been Cassidy’s deep dive into and dependence on the bench, where even third-line players have been standing out, according to FanSided’s Andrew Thompson.
2. A victorious track record is not lacking
No, a 3-0 record does not warrant Cassidy eternal acclaim as an NHL head coach. (Although a phenomenal finish to the season wouldn’t hurt his chances of getting to that point.)
The interim, however, does boast a rock-solid resume in the Bruins organization. At least to some degree, then, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that a Cassidy-led team is starting hot.
In nearly a decade of service to Boston’s AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, Cassidy strung together three consecutive seasons with at least 40 victories to go along with playoff appearances, and had his club atop the league standings with a 50-21-5 mark in 2012-13. Even setting aside his time with seven other teams in varying positions, the one-time Blackhawks player knows the ins and outs of leading an organization and leading it to victory.
That’s not to say he’s anything substantially more than an interim coach riding the short-lived passions of his players, but it does mean that Cassidy already had quite a few marks in the “W” column under his belt.
3. The passion of a fresh voice is seeping through
This one is sure to be less a factor as the season goes on, but a quick peek at what the Bruins are doing — how they are actually playing and flying across the ice — should tell you that something or someone has rekindled a fire for this team. Why would we hesitate to think that someone is Cassidy, a former NHL defenseman who just so happens to be the guy who led Boston to its first home win over Montreal — and a big 4-0 one, at that — since 2012?
As with many in-season coaching changes across professional sports, the raw emotion of a locker room headlined by Cassidy’s fresh voice has to be factored in. Take another gander at the Bruins’ last three games, in which the club has racked up 14 goals, and try not to be convinced that a renewed hunger has surfaced under Cassidy’s watch.
Lundqvist Could End Up Being Considered Greatest Ranger Ever
Henrik Lundqvist was already the generational goaltender of his era, the all-time winningest European netminder and the only goalie in NHL history to record 20 wins in each of his first 12 seasons. The shot-stopping Swede added another impressive feather to his cap Saturday by becoming the fastest netminder in league history to reach 400 wins.
By defeating the Colorado Avalanche 4-2, Lundqvist reached the milestone in 727 games, albeit with shootout wins inflating his total. That’s quicker than the likes of Martin Brodeur, Chris Osgood, Jacques Plante and Patrick Roy. His affinity with Rangers fans has never been in doubt. Madison Square Garden roared louder and louder with chants of “Hen-rik, Hen-rik” as the minutes ticked down. Some fans paid upward of $130 on ticket resale websites to ensure they could witness history.
“I’m going to tell you that last couple minutes you hear the crowd, you get goosebumps, and it was just like my first game here when they chanted my name,” Lundqvist said following the victory. “Winning at MSG, the crowd is really into it, and it’s just the best feeling. That’s why you go to work every morning and try to improve your game.”
The 34-year-old was desperate to accomplish the feat on home ice in front of the fans who have always offered unwavering support throughout his 12-year career. Alternate captain Derek Stepan revealed after the victory that Lundqvist willed teammates to get the job done by offering a stirring second intermission speech as the Rangers trailed 2-1 heading into the third period.
Super Rugby: New Season But Don’t Expect a Script Change
Are you expecting the New Zealand sides to dominate in the same way they did last year?
GP: Probably, but maybe not quite to the same extent when it comes to final positions on the table. An improved Blues side may increase the cannibalisation within the New Zealand Conference. It could end up that with the New Zealand teams dominating the South Africans and Australians, but also taking too many points off one another for four teams to make the playoffs as happened last year.
PM: Yes, and from the start. Other teams hoping to catch Kiwi teams out early might have looked at the quality of players named for their team’s final pre-season hit-outs recently – including Ben Smith and Aaron Smith for the Highlanders and Israel Dagg for the Crusaders – with a sense of disquiet. The Lions are coming in June, but many of the All Blacks appear eager to impress from round one of the Super Rugby season.
Last year four New Zealand teams made the top eight; with the squad the Blues have named, Tana Umaga’s men could make it this season, too.
2. Is there any New Zealand player that you think will emerge as a potential surprise All Black candidate before June?
GP: Hard to see that happening. The All Blacks cast their net fairly wide last year ” discovering the likes of Anton Lienert-Brown, Rieko Ioane and Scott Barrett. Might not be a case of finding a new star, but instead gaining confirmation that players such as Damian McKenzie, Nepo Laulala and Lima Sopoaga are all going to be good longer-term test prospects.
PM: The All Blacks’ depth and succession planning is such that it’s unlikely there will be a surprise as such, but Jordie Barrett has the potential to take the competition by storm for the Hurricanes. Barrett, an “apprentice” on last year’s All Blacks northern tour, has a fair bit of physical development to come, but the 1.96m tall 19-year-old, who can play in the midfield or at fullback, has the ability to create time and space and has a big future. Barrett caught the eye for the Hurricanes in their helter-skelter pre-season victory over the Blues. Like his brother Beauden he’s often a calming presence amid chaos.
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