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Cassidy Reflects on Bruins' 2020-21 Campaign

Boston's bench boss talks Islanders series, Rask, and more during end-of-season availability

by Eric Russo @erusso22 /

BOSTON - Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy met with the media on Monday morning to look back on the 2020-21 season, specifically how things ended with Boston's second-round exit to the New York Islanders. Cassidy said he believes that while the Bruins were not far off from being on the other side of the series against the Isles, the B's biggest downfall was the inability to find ways to win on nights they were without their best.

"I feel like we had pockets of real good hockey against the Islanders, particularly at home - Games 2 and 5, I thought we certainly played well enough to win," said Cassidy. "I guess where it went wrong, what they did better than us, was find a way to win games when they maybe didn't have their A-game. Or stay in games through the tougher stretches. That takes us to Game 6, obviously. We weren't able to put out fires in the second period, that we created ourselves. That was another area - our puck management cost us in some games, plays we made. And you have to credit the Islanders for that. They're good at putting pressure on you, forcing you into mistakes. At the end of the day, that was an area of the game that we needed to be cleaner.

"Obviously, our penalty kill didn't get the job done as it typically did during the year and against Washington. Some of that was some tough luck around the net, but the numbers were there, so that's an area that we could have been better in. And then, playing from behind in New York, some second period breakdowns…in the second period, they're good at transitioning. We weren't able to sort of handle that, and that showed up again in Game 6.

"Those are probably the areas, at the end of the day, that cost us. I honestly don't think there was a lot to pick from, from both teams, if you look at the whole series. But at the end of the day, at key moments, they came through in Game 5 and Game 6, and as a result, they get to move on."

Here are some of the other notable takeaways from Cassidy's end-of-season media availability:

No Regrets with Rask

Cassidy is not having any second thoughts about tapping Tuukka Rask for Game 6 against the Islanders. Despite being pulled for Jeremy Swayman after two periods in Game 5, Rask got the call again two nights later and took the loss in the B's season-ending setback on Long Island.

The veteran netminder went on to reveal on Friday that he was playing through a torn labrum in his hip that will require surgery this offseason and keep him sidelined for five to six months.

Nevertheless, Cassidy does not regret going with his No. 1 backstop throughout the postseason.

"I chose Tuukka. No regrets on that," said Cassidy. "We felt he gave us the best chance to win, didn't work out that way. Some of those decisions also go through the leadership group, where are you guys at in terms of your mental psyche with the goaltending? They were all on board with Tuukka as well. They certainly believe in Swayman, but Tuukka's been there and done it.

"That's where that decision came from. At the end of the day, it didn't work out. You're always going to analyze some things after the series, but that's when we felt he gave us the best chance to win. That was the decision. He was healthy to play. Had played, played well. That was that."

Video: Cassidy speaks following '20-'21 season

Cassidy went on to say that he and goalie coach Bob Essensa - as well as the club's medical staff - were in communication with Rask on a daily basis regarding the goalie's health, while noting that Rask's condition did not change from the start of the postseason.

"I'll tell you the process and I'll be quite open with you," said Cassidy. "Obviously, Tuukka's acknowledged that he was playing hurt. He met with us every day: the medical staff, myself, Goalie Bob, to go through his status. Particularly in the playoffs…the played Game 1 with it against Washington, right through to Game 6 in New York. It was the same injury, sort of the same as a player dealing with it. We just got different results in the second round, and obviously, some of that is team oriented.

"We don't put everything on the goalie when you lose, just like you don't when you win. In that case, we were never going to run out a player that wasn't fit to play. So, it first passed through him…he regularly told us he was ready to go. In Game 5, after the second period, I thought he didn't look as sharp. Goalie Bob talked to him and said he was lacking some energy, so we said, 'Well, we'll go with Swayman in the third, then we'll sort out Game 6.'

"Again, he came back the next day feeling better. Going through his routine, his maintenance - he didn't skate a lot between games, get the morning skate in - felt ready to go. Then it comes on me to make the final call, who gives us the best chance to win?"

Cassidy added that while there was some hesitation to turn to Swayman given the rookie's lengthy layoff - he had not played since the regular-season finale on May 11 before his relief appearance in Game 5 - the decision had far more to do with how Rask was feeling physically.

"Once you get all the information from Tuukka, who was our starter, that he was good to go," Cassidy said, "you start factoring in performances. Does the other guy give you a chance to win? As I said, we felt that Tuukka's performance, other than Game 5, was very good. Perfectly normal for a goalie to have an off night. You're more worried, was it because of an injury, was it because you were off, the team in front of you? We clarified the next day that he was ready to go and fit, so we stuck with him.

"Then you go, 'OK, should we put the other guy in? Is it time to give him a break, or does the other guy give us the best chance to win, the other guy being Swayman as a backup?' We just felt that, no, that wouldn't be the case. And some of it had to do with that, absolutely, the farther you go, especially a younger guy that's not really been in that position that much, is that the best spot to put him in?

"Obviously, if Tuukka couldn't go, that would have been the decision. It was easy for us. He was the next guy up, he'd been preparing to go in if something should happen. Tuukka was fit to go. It did factor in a little bit, but at the end of the day, it was more about Tuukka and less about Swayman."

Rask played just 24 games during the 2020-21 season, his lowest total since suiting up for 23 games in 2011-12. In addition to the natural limitations of a 56-game schedule, the 34-year-old was also hampered by his hip and resulting back trouble that forced him to miss all but one period from March 7 to April 15. At no point during that stretch, however, was there a discussion that Rask was in danger of being shut down for the season, according to Cassidy.

"It was more about, let's get him the rest he needs," said Cassidy. "I forget the timeline exactly, but we looked at it as, Jaro's been a great backup for us for years, we can get through some stretches here. We'll get a look at our younger guys. All of a sudden, Jaro went to COVID [protocols]. We did go with [Dabiel] Vladar in Pittsburgh in the back-to-back, and he played very well for us. Right away, you're like, 'Good, we might have some depth back there.'

"All of a sudden Jaro goes in COVID and it's Swayman as well, and he shows us we've got even more depth back there. That was a positive out of it. But in the meantime, we were not considering shutting down Tuukka. That would have had to have been his call."

Cassidy went on to point out that players often play through injuries in the postseason, listing off the likes of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov, all of whom had to undergo surgeries last offseason that disrupted their preparations for the 2020-21 campaign.

"That happens," said Cassidy. "And then we have guys in season this year, like Johnny Moore and Steve Kampfer, that tried to play through and couldn't get where they needed to be and elected to have surgery. So, you've got guys on both sides of the line there, with that. And typically, it's the players decision. They have to be comfortable with their body. We've said that all along. We're not going to put anybody out there that's not fit to play.

"Obviously, sometimes second opinions come into play with all of that. With Tuukka, it was a matter of, let's get him some rest. Get him his point of care treatments. Put his schedule together for maintenance, for him. Obviously, check with the individual on a daily basis to see how he's progressing. You hope that's enough to keep him ready to play. That was the discussion, and that's how it played out."

Video: Rask Speaks to Media on Bruins Breakup Day

Hall of a Fit

Cassidy was pleased with the addition - and subsequent performance - of Taylor Hall to the Bruins' lineup. The 29-year-old winger had eight goals and six assists in 16 regular-season games, before adding three goals and two assists in 11 postseason contests, as he found quick chemistry alongside David Krejci and Craig Smith on Boston's second line.

"He played very well for us," said Cassidy. "Obviously, finishing up against the Islanders, didn't have the numbers - their whole line didn't have the numbers they had against Washington in the regular season. Some of that is a learning curve for the player, the deepest he's ever been in the playoffs. Usually, the harder it gets as it goes along. And those are some things you just have to learn on your own, as a player, to a certain extent. Hopefully he's better off for it the next time he's in that position.

"As for, he really balanced out our attack in terms of lines of 1A and 1B, and I think that made it difficult on opponents. I think he really re-energized Krejci and his play. Smitty sort of found his way to that line - Smitty played well with everybody. At the end of the day, that's what I saw with Taylor."

Cassidy hopes that the former Hart Trophy winner, who is set to hit unrestricted free agency next month, is back at his disposal for the 2021-22 season.

"I think the next playoffs he's in, he'll be better prepared for it. I hope it's with the Boston Bruins, he did a good job for us," said Cassidy. "He's a good player, he's a good person. He works hard. I think he knows what he wants out of his career now. He's been in a few different places. He's made some money. Hopefully both sides can make it work. That's what I see with Taylor.

"The other benefit of being here for the full season would be to watch how hard a guy like Brad Marchand practices and plays, every day of the season. Brad will take his occasional maintenance day, but other than that, when he's on the ice, it's 100 percent, competing against whoever in practice, second effort in the games.

"I think that can only help a player like Taylor that's a little farther ahead and has been through some of that and has had some seasons like Marchy where he's an elite player. If he's going to get back to that level, I think watching Marchy every day would be a huge benefit for him."

Video: Hall addresses the media on Friday morning at WIA

Taking Some Time 

Cassidy was open about his approach with Jake DeBrusk - who noted during his end-of-season media availability on Friday how tough of a season it was for him personally - saying he will take some time before meeting with the winger about areas for improvement heading into training camp. DeBrusk notched five goals and 14 points in 41 games, the lowest totals of his four-year career.

"I think with Jake, there needs to be a little time, personally," said Cassidy. "My conversations with Jake I think would have been too raw the day after. So, the players have some time to themselves. We're going to sit down this week now that we've both digested and see if we can sort through a bit of the season and say, 'OK, let's find some common ground on where you see yourself fitting into this lineup and where I feel you need to be better and see if we can sort through some of this stuff now that the season's over.'

"Sometimes, in seasons, players are just going to tell you what you want to hear at times. It's up to me to dig a little deeper with him so we can get to the root of what's going to make you the best player. Now, we've tried that, don't get me wrong. Players have meetings with coaches, assistant coaches, etc. But you're always on to the next game, so you can get through some of it, but maybe this will be a little bit of a longer process with Jake.

"We feel he's a good kid, and he's been a good player for the Bruins. He's been inconsistent, so part of that falls on the player, obviously. It's his job to get himself ready. Part of it falls on the staff to get the best out of him. I know you've heard that before, but that is what we're going to try to dictate. Hopefully we can find some common ground on that and, at the end of the day, get him to where he needs to be."

Video: DeBrusk speaks on Friday morning at WIA

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