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Coaching change, offense helped Bruins clinch

Hiring of Bruce Cassidy, scoring of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak sparked Boston's return to playoffs

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

The timing was curious, coming a week after the NHL All-Star break and two days into a four-day break for the Boston Bruins. But on Feb. 7, general manager Don Sweeney fired coach Claude Julien, who had been in place for a decade and was the winningest coach in Bruins history. 

At the time, Boston was tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division.

After the firing, the Bruins enjoyed a bounce, winning seven of their next eight games and 11 of 14 under new coach Bruce Cassidy. But the good times didn't last forever. The Bruins were forced to contend with the demons of the past after losing four consecutive games midway through March, dropping out of a playoff spot and putting their postseason in jeopardy.

It was after the third game of that streak that defenseman Torey Krug said, "It's a different feeling this year. It's not going to happen. I know we have a lot of pride in this room, the guys that have been through it. There's no other option except making sure we stay on course and take care and do our jobs."

They bounced back after one more loss and now, unlike the past two seasons, will be headed to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a new coach and a new determination to make some noise for the first time since they lost in the Eastern Conference Second Round in 2013-14.

Video: TBL@BOS: Rask shuts out Bolts to lead B's to playoffs

Here are five reasons the Bruins clinched:


1. Brad Marchand

Last season, there was no question Marchand was an offensive force. The question was whether he could continue at that rate -- scoring 37 goals in 77 games -- for another season. He proved he could.

Marchand reached 37 goals in 73 games this season, tying Sidney Crosby at the top of the NHL leaderboard after a dominating stretch since Jan. 7, when the left wing scored 47 points (27 goals, 20 assists) in 30 games. He now has 85 points (39 goals, 46 assists) in 79 games.

"[Marchand] a great guy and a real good player," said Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who coached him with Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey 2016. "Plays hard. He's competitive. He's all in every day. He does a good job for his team. He's a top three player in the League, if not one of the best players right now in this League this year, and no one is driving his team harder."

At 28 years old, Marchand has become one of the best offensive players in the NHL who plays in every situation -- five-on-five, power play, penalty kill -- even if he still has moments he regrets, such as Tuesday when he received a five-minute major and game misconduct for spearing Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin and will have a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety on Thursday as a result.

Video: FLA@BOS: Marchand roofs a rebound for PPG


2. Shaking things up

When the Bruins opted to fire Julien and hire Cassidy, it was a decision cheered by some, panned by others and generally considered a move of desperation for a franchise that was in a playoff spot.

But it worked.

Cassidy was able to inject a measure of punch into an offense on the brink of breaking out, pushing the Bruins to 3.56 goals per game in his 25 games at the helm. He also served as a means of accountability for a team that had sometimes let itself slide over the course of the season.

The change woke the players up, pushing them to be better than they had been, to accept responsibility for where the team was and where it was going, including some players who had only ever played for Julien in their careers.

It remains to be seen whether Cassidy will be the long-term solution in Boston, but his promotion was a key factor in getting the Bruins into the postseason.


3. David Pastrnak

If there were one player who needed to make a big jump from last season to this season, it was Pastrnak. The 20-year-old forward was coming off a slightly disappointing 15-goal, 11-assist, 51-game sophomore season that was marred by injury.

Pastrnak surpassed the 30-goal mark for the first time, reaching 70 points (34 goals, 36 assists) in 73 games, retaining his signature humor and learning along the way. (Asked why he hadn't shaved his head for a team charity function, opting to shave the bidder's head for money, Pastrnak said of his hair, "That's what makes me fly.")

There were certainly still rookie moments for Pastrnak, but it was also clear he was becoming an offensive star, especially when paired with Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.

Video: TBL@BOS: Pastrnak slams Nash's feed past Vasilevskiy


4. Puck possession

All season, the Bruins were at the top of the League in puck possession, ranking first in Shot Attempts (SAT) For per 60 minutes. But they weren't converting all that puck possession into scoring; they also ranked near at the top of the League in shot attempts per game.

That offense finally clicked as the season wore on, with contributions from Marchand especially helpful. It had seemed inevitable the Bruins would put it together offensively, which they did, finally making good on all those attempts.

By the time they qualified for the postseason, the Bruins ranked 11th in goals per game, at 2.88, while taking the second most shots per game in the League (to the Pittsburgh Penguins) with 33.4. And they were, still, first in SAT For, according to Puckalytics, at 60.36.

Video: TBL@BOS: Stafford backhands a rebound from the slot


5. Avoiding a collapse

The past two seasons have not ended well for the Bruins, with late-season stumbles leading to long summers at home. They hadn't made the playoffs since 2013-14, when they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round one year after making the Stanley Cup Final.

Last season, their downfall came on the last day of the regular season with a loss to the Ottawa Senators costing them a trip to the postseason. It was a demoralizing moment for a team and a franchise that always has expected so much of itself, especially in recent years under Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli, who was fired the summer before.

The GM and coach each are different, with the hope the results would be, too, even when the team began slipping in the final weeks of the season.

"We're trying to write our own story this year," Cassidy said. "I know how the last few years have ended. We'd like a different ending."

They got that different ending this season.

Video: TBL@BOS: Chara drills a blistering one-timer for PPG

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