Jake DeBrusk

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Bruins have evolved into one of NHL’s best under Cassidy

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On Feb. 4, 2017, the Boston Bruins were an organization that seemed to be stuck in mediocrity. They had narrowly missed the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons, had won just 26 of their first 55 games that year, and were preparing to fire Claude Julien, a Stanley Cup winning coach and one of the most successful coaches the team had ever had.

While there were some signs that the 2016-17 team had performed better than its overall record under Julien (they were a good possession team but were getting sunk by sub-par goaltending) the team had just seemed to hit a wall where there was no way forward. It was not a particularly deep roster, the defense was full of question marks, and it just had the look of an organization that was teetering on the edge of needing a rebuild.

It was at that point that Bruce Cassidy took over behind the bench for his first head coaching opportunity in the NHL since a mostly disappointing one-and-a-half year run with the Washington Capitals more than a decade earlier. All the Bruins have done since then is evolve into one of the NHL’s most dominant teams under Cassidy and enter Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday just one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It has been a pretty sensational run under Cassidy’s watch.

Since he was hired the Bruins are second in the NHL in points percentage (.670), goal-differential (plus-130), Corsi percentage (53.2 percent) and scoring chance percentage (53.4), and 10th in high-danger scoring chance percentage (52.2). They have made the playoffs every year he has been behind the bench and gone increasingly further each time. They are now just five wins away from a championship.

Obviously there is a lot of talent on this Boston team, especially at the top of the lineup where they have a collection of some the game’s best players, including the trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.

That will help any coach.

But what is perhaps most impressive about the Bruins’ success over the past two seasons is how many games Cassidy has been without some of those key players, and how often his team has just kept on winning.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season the group of Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, and Brandon Carlo has combined to miss 203 man-games. That is an average of more than 20 games *per player* over the two-year stretch.

That is not only a lot of games to miss due to injury (or, in some cases, suspension), it is a lot of games for pretty much all of the team’s best players. That does not even take into account the time starting goalie Tuukka Rask missed earlier this season.

The quick response to that sustained success, obviously, is “depth,” and how a lot of credit should be given to the front office for constructing a deep roster that can overcome that many significant injuries.

After all, McAvoy has been a game-changer on defense, Pastrnak has blossomed into a star, and while the Bruins may not have maximized the return on their three consecutive first-round picks in 2015 (they passed on Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor, just to name a few) they still have had a nice collection of young forwards emerge through the system, especially Jake DeBrusk.

While all of that is certainly true to a point, this is also a team whose depth was probably its biggest weakness and question mark until about two months ago.

Everyone knew their top line was the best in the NHL. Everyone knew their defense with McAvoy blossoming into a star and Krug producing the way he did was starting to turn around. But they were still a remarkably top-heavy team that did not get much in the way of offense outside of their top five or six players. And they spent a lot of time over the past two years, in the league’s toughest division at the top, and still managed to win a ton of hockey games.

[MORE: Bruins head to Stanley Cup Final after sweeping Hurricanes]

Maybe the depth was better than it was originally given credit for, and maybe the goaltending duo of Rask and Jaroslav Halak has helped to mask some flaws. But you also can not ignore the job Cassidy has done behind the bench and the success the team has had since he took over. In the two-and-a-half years prior to him (including during that very season) the Bruins’ points percentage was only 18th in the NHL, and while their possession and scoring chance numbers were still good, they were not as downright dominant as they have been under Cassidy.

It doesn’t matter who he has had in the lineup, who he has been without, or what run of injuries have been thrown his way his team has just simply gotten results. Even more important than the results is the way they are getting the results. They control the puck, they get the better of the scoring chances, and they just simply play like a championship level team.

It is a far jump from where they were just a little more than two years ago, and the turnaround started the day they made the switch behind the bench.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Hurricanes need more from special teams

The Carolina Hurricanes have been this year’s version of Cinderella in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the clock is about to strike midnight on them if they don’t change certain aspects of their game in a hurry.

The Hurricanes find themselves down 2-0 in their best-of-seven series against the Boston Bruins heading into Game 3 on home ice. For them to get back into this series, they have to find a way to get their special teams play on track. Coming into the Eastern Conference Final, the Hurricanes had the worst power play of the four teams remaining (they were at right around 10 percent).

After two games against Boston, the Hurricanes’ power play has gone 1-for-7 (1-for-3 in Game 1, 0-for-4 in Game 2). When teams don’t score one the man-advantage, often times they’ll at least generate some positive momentum from those moments. For Carolina, the power play seemed to zap any and all momentum in Game 2.

On the flip side, the Bruins have used their power-play opportunities to their advantage. Yes, there’s been some controversy regarding how they got on the man-advantage in this series, but they’ve made their power plays count. So far in this series, Boston has gone 4-for-7 on the power play. How can the Hurricanes expect to win given those numbers?

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

You may not agree with the penalties the officials are handing out, but they have to find a way to kill some of them. The Hurricanes’ penalty kill can’t be under 50 percent through two games. That’s not a recipe for success.

The Hurricanes got the first power play of Game 2 when Zdeno Chara tripped Andrei Svechnikov in the first period. Carolina didn’t generate very much and the Bruins managed to open the scoring less than two minutes later. The Bruins then made it 2-0 late in the frame when they got a power-play goal from Jake DeBrusk.

“Yeah, we got a little frustrated after the second one went in,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said, per NHL.com. “But again, we weren’t very good after the first period or the last five minutes of the first and throughout the rest of the game. We got off our game, and give them credit, there’s a reason we got off our game. They’re playing their game, and we haven’t gotten to ours.”

Special teams isn’t the only reason the ‘Canes are down 2-0 in this best-of-seven series. Falling behind 1-0 on a goal that goalie Petr Mrazek absolutely needs to save was less than ideal. But falling apart after the Bruins opened the scoring can’t be your only option.

The one thing they have going for them is that they’re now going to play Games 3 and 4 on home ice. The issue is that they have absolutely no margin for error in any of these games. They have to find a way to go back to Boston with the series tied or they’ll be in deep trouble.

“I think just all in all we’ve got to rediscover who we are,” captain Justin Williams said after Game 2. “You spend all this time off leading up [to the series] and everyone writing articles about how great we are, and then you come out and sometimes you’ve got to eat a poop sandwich. It doesn’t taste good, and you have to chew on it for a little bit, and we’ll have to do it for a couple days and get the taste out of our mouths next game.”

(Williams doesn’t make poop sandwiches sound very appetizing).

We’re about to find out just how much magic the Hurricanes have left in the tank. Can they claw back into the series like the did against the Washington Capitals in the first round or will they fold?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Bruins’ Grzelcyk scores after taking huge hit in Game 2

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When Matt Grzelcyk made it 1-0 for the Bruins during the first period of Game 2 against the Hurricanes on Sunday (airing on NBC; Stream here), it was surprising for more than one reason.

For one thing, it was a goal Petr Mrazek will surely regret. Marcus Johansson made some great moves to set up the play, but Mrazek really cannot let a goal like that squeak through, not from that angle. You can see that goal in the video above this post’s headline.

It was also a little surprising because, frankly, it’s impressive Grzelcyk wasn’t feeling too many ill effects from an absolutely massive hit by big Hurricanes forward Micheal Ferland. Grzelcyk didn’t seem to see Ferland coming, as the puck was lost in his skates, and Ferland delivered an absolutely thunderous hit on the Bruins defenseman. There seemed to be some head contact during the collision, but no penalty was called:

Ouch.

Maybe it wasn’t as painful as it looked, as Grzelcyk was able to give the Bruins that early lead, which Jake DeBrusk fattened to a 2-0 advantage minutes later. Carolina must show similar resilience in Game 2 if they want to avoid dropping to a 2-0 hole in this Round 3 series.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins scoring first; secondary scoring shining

It makes for quite the concoction.

Scoring first always puts the conceding team on the back foot. The Carolina Hurricanes know all about that — they’re 4-0 in this postseason when they pot the first goal of the game.

But the Boston Bruins have been able to pip their opponents to that first marker during a four-game winning streak that’s seen them see off the Columbus Blue Jackets in six games and now take a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final into Game 2 on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

And in three of those wins, that first goal has come from someone outside the ‘Big Three’ on forward.

David Pastrnak got that all-important strike in Game 4 against the Blue Jackets, a goal that proved pivot in the Bruins turning around a 2-1 deficit in that series. David Krejci then went on to score first in each of the next two games and Steven Kampfer gave Boston an early lead in Game 1 against the Hurricanes last Thursday.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Secondary scoring played a big part in Game 6 for the Bruins, where Krejci was on point in the second, followed by goals from Marcus Johansson and David Backes in a 3-0 shutout win to send Columbus out.

In Game 1, Johansson was once again on point, scoring the tying goal in the third. After Patrice Bergeron‘s goal to take a 3-2 lead, Charlie Coyle and Chris Wagner each found twine to put that game out of reach.

Side note: Johannson’s emergence with two goals in this past two games has been a welcomed sight after he was picked up at the trade deadline. 

The harmony between top-line production and secondary scoring has been well in sync during this streak. Carolina has to devote a lot to shutting down Bergeron, Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. It doesn’t feel like feast or famine right now for the Bruins and their top trio. They’re dangerous, and the secondary guys are picking up the scraps when offered.

The last time the Bruins won five straight came in 2013 — coincidentally, the last time they reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Boston has led for 155:54 and trailed for 13:08 during their streak

“Sometimes we get in a little bit of a passive mode, but we play a layered system where we try to make sure we’re in front of them towards the net, so they have to go through multiple bodies to get there and try to limit turnovers as well,” Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk told NHL.com. “Just try to play a simple game. It’s not necessarily the most fun game to watch, but it’s winning hockey this time of year.”

The Bruins weather a second-period storm where they were outshot 15-10 in Game 1 and when they grabbed the lead in the third, they made sure Carolina’s possession game couldn’t do just that.

The Hurricanes don’t give up many goals — some of the least in the postseason and the regular season. So the Bruins can take confidence in the fact they tucked five past them in Game 1.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• PHT roundtable
• Hurricanes/Bruins series preview
• PHT Conference Finals predictions


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Penalties crush Hurricanes as Bruins storm back in Game 1

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The Carolina Hurricanes had their moments in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, but penalties ended up being their Achilles’ heel in a 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins got on the board quickly thanks to Steven Kampfer, who was only in the game in the first place because Charlie McAvoy was serving a suspension. That lead was erased quickly though when Andrei Svechnikov‘s shot was deflected by Sebastian Aho just three seconds into a Hurricanes power play. Just like that, the score was 1-1 a mere 3:42 minutes into the contest.

Things calmed down after that until Greg McKegg charged hard into the net midway through the second period. Replays showed that he scored before colliding with Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask and the Bruins ultimately didn’t challenge the call, giving the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead.

Carolina’s edge wouldn’t hold though and it was largely due to a lack of discipline. Micheal Ferland was charged with interface late in the third and while the Hurricanes killed off that penalty, they weren’t so fortunate in the third. First Jordan Staal boarded Chris Wagner just 49 seconds into the frame. There might have been coincidental minors there as rookie defenseman Connor Clifton took exception to what Staal did, but Brad Marchand pulled Clifton back before the situation escalated.

That certainly isn’t a role Marchand is known for, but that wasn’t his only contribution in the period. He helped set up Marcus Johansson‘s game-tying goal on the ensuing power-play. When Dougie Hamilton took a roughing penalty at 2:41 of the third to put the Hurricanes in the box yet again, Marchand got another power-play assist, this time feeding the puck to Patrice Bergeron.

That said, the player who deserves the most credit on the Bergeron goal is arguably Jake DeBrusk, who collected the puck on his knees and got up while making the pass to Marchand to get that sequence going.

Hamilton took yet another penalty at 5:29 of the third, just to make life a little harder for the Hurricanes, but at least Carolina killed off that one. From there, the Hurricanes could not battle back. Brandon Carlo got an empty netter at 17:47 and Chris Wagner got one by Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek at 17:58.

Carolina can look back at this game as a missed opportunity to take one early in Boston. The silver lining for the Hurricanes is that this series has only begun.

Hurricanes-Bruins Game 2 from TD Garden will be Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.