Playoff Grit Returns to Boston

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

By: Greg Aker | Follow me on Twitter: @akesNpains1

How do you beat Toronto? Hit them in the mouth, both literally and figuratively. The Boston Bruins did none of that in Game One of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A disappointing 4-1 loss sent them to the locker room licking their wounds. In true Bruce Cassidy fashion, he was blunt and made it very clear that they were beaten in all aspects of the game. They were most definitely going to make changes. Changes they made.

From the drop of the puck, Game Two had a completely different feel than the first one of the series. Cassidy threw out his fourth line against Toronto’s finest right out of the gate. The game plan was clear: Let them know you are there.

A goal just 4:44 into the first period by Weymouth, MA native Charlie Coyle sent the TD Garden into an early frenzy. The entire roster had their skating legs going, and nobody finished a play without finishing a check (Boston registered 44 hits in Game Two versus 31 in Game 1). Scoring changes were heavily lopsided in Boston’s favor early and often. Usually, when the Bruins score first, especially on home ice, they win. During the regular season, the Bruins were 18-3-3 on home ice when scoring first. Additionally, the Bruins were 13-3-2 when tied after one period at home.

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Game One proved to be an anomaly. A nifty power play goal by Patrice Bergeron midway through the first period on Thursday night ended up being the Bruins’ only tally in what ended up a 4-1 loss. It was only the Bruins’ fourth loss over 25 home contests when scoring first. A penalty shot goal by Mitch Marner and a late breakaway goal by William Nylander in the 2nd period resulted in the Leafs taking a 3-1 lead into the dressing room after two periods of play in Game 1. Toronto has yet to lose (21-0-1) on the road when leading after two. We all know the end result from Thursday.

If one thing is known about the NHL playoffs, it is that no lead is safe. All one has to do is think back to a particular Game 7 in 2013, involving these same two teams. In Game Two, Boston never looked back. A beautiful finish by Brad Marchand on a slick behind-the-back pass from linemate David Pastrnak put the Bruins up 2-0 heading into the 2nd period. A Danton Heinen goal off of a Toronto miscue midway through the 2nd period resulted in a 3-goal lead by Boston. Toronto, as stated earlier, hasn’t lost on the road this year when leading after two periods. Inversely, they have never won on the road when down after two (0-12-3). Good starts matter in this series, for both teams.

Toronto’s lineup is littered with high-end talent and point production. With 10 players totaling over 30 points during the regular season, they have some of the best scoring depth in the entire league. Boston has the firepower of their own, but it was clear that the end-to-end pace of Game One favored the blue and white. Enter Bruce Cassidy.

I am one to think that Bruce doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being one heck of a hockey coach. The Jack Adams conversation rarely involves him. Names like Barry Trotz, Jon Cooper, and former Bruin Rick Tocchet dominate the headlines. Cassidy is lying in the weeds and getting excellent results. Over the stretch of 82+ games this year, he has had to constantly juggle the lineup due to injuries. Many felt that with aging veterans, the Bruins would see a down year compared to last. Instead, they finished second in the league in points only behind Tampa Bay and their record-setting season.

Adjustments are where Cassidy hangs his hat. The Bruins sustained losses in three straight games on only four occasions this year. Only twice did they go three straight games without earning a point. That defines consistency. Their top goal-scorer missed significant time with injury and Bruce helped orchestrate a run of 19-straight games of earning at least a point without him. The in-series adjustments have been fairly obvious thus far. Cassidy stated that his team needed to play more physical and with more emotion following the loss in Game 1.

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The return of David Backes into the lineup reflects this mindset. He knows they can’t sustain the up-tempo style that Mike Babcock wants to establish for 60 minutes each night. However, Cassidy will be the first to tell you that he wants his team to play fast too. The players answered the call. Puck battles were won all night on Saturday. Technical, responsible hockey was on display all while showing both speed and grit. There has to be established physical play for the Bruins to be successful and that is what we should see in the foreseeable future.

Game 3 will be telling in how this series looks to shift. The cat and mouse game has only just begun, but the playoff grit is back. Don’t blink.

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