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Bruce Cassidy brought positive changes for Bruins

Remains Boston coach after successful stretch run, improvement in key areas

by Matt Kalman / Correspondent

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins went 18-8-1 down the stretch of the regular season and returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2014 after Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien as coach Feb. 7.

After the Bruins' six-game loss in the Eastern Conference First Round to the Ottawa Senators, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney on Wednesday committed to Cassidy as coach for next season.

"I think Bruce summarized it very well the other morning when we sat down to finalize things," Sweeney said Thursday. "When I said, 'Congrats,' he said, 'It's good, because that was a long, hard interview.'"

The Bruins were 26-23-6 under Julien and in danger of missing the playoffs for a third straight season before Cassidy's "interview" began. Boston averaged more goals for (3.37) and fewer goals against (2.30) after the coaching change, its penalty kill remained No. 1 in the NHL (85.7 percent), and its power play surged to seventh (21.7 percent).

Video: Recapping BOS-OTT Game 6 and the series

Cassidy empowered his forwards to be more creative and attack the net, and his defensemen to join the play and still pay close attention to defense. It paid off in more wins and a job for Cassidy.

"And obviously that helped, people get excited about that, scoring goals and getting on offense," Cassidy said. "And I don't think we lost a lot on the defensive side of things. And as we went along, we tried to maintain that balance. So that was the message right away.

"Players bought in and we had success, and that obviously helps. Winning solves a lot of problems and puts a lot of smiles on people's faces."

Cassidy credited the Boston core, many who won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and played for Julien for most of his 10 seasons with the Bruins, for making the transition smoother.

"The veteran leadership, they gave me an opportunity to go in and earn their respect and they bought into what we were selling … 100 percent," Cassidy said. "The veteran guys, they afforded me that opportunity and I can't thank them enough."

The Bruins lost three of their top four defensemen -- Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and Brandon Carlo -- and center David Krejci to injury but pushed the Senators to four overtime games.

"I thought our team was well-prepared each and every night, not just in the playoffs, but from when Bruce took over," Sweeney said. "I know how meticulous he is and I also know the emotional level that he can get to, and I think the players respond to it. He's a teacher of the game. I think the very next day when he walks in, regardless of how the game went the night before, it's about, how do we get better?"

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