Bruins overcome pressure to win Game 7

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Bruins overcome pressure to win Game 7

CSNNE.com staff and wire reports

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins thought they excised the specter of last season's postseason collapse when they finished off the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals this year.

Turns out it was just a warmup for Friday night.

The Bruins avoided another, less apocalyptic collapse by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 and advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. But a collapse it would have been, since the Bruins a) couldn't protect a three-goal lead in Game 4, and b) couldn't close out Tampa Bay in Game 6 with a 3-2 series lead.

But the B's didn't focus on failures of the past.

"Our guys are not discouraged or disappointed," said coach Claude Julien prior to the game. "The past is the past. We've got an opportunity to win a hockey game and get into the Stanley Cup Finals."

An opportunity they took advantage of.

The Bruins spent most of this season trying to forget what happened in last year's playoffs, when the Flyers rallied from a 3-0 deficit to force a seventh game and then trailed 3-0 in Game 7 before winning to advance to the conference finals. Boston swept Philadelphia this year in Round 2, but that didn't mean Bruins fans were ready to get comfortable when the team got a big lead.

In Game 4, with Boston already leading the series 2-1, the Bruins opened up a 3-0 lead before allowing five unanswered goals. The Bruins also led 3-2 in the series, with a 2-1 lead after one period of Game 6 on Wednesday night, before the Lightning scored three in a row and eventually won 5-4.

That sent the teams back to Boston for Game 7.

But the Bruins felt the pressure fell on both teams equally.

"When it all comes down to one game, I think the pressure is on both teams," said Patrice Bergeron. "You shouldn't allow pressure to get into your head. Just go out there and play your game."

Although the Bruins could call upon their experience in Game 7 against Montreal in the first round, Tampa Bay was much more familiar with elimination games. The Lightning fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the first round before winning three straight to advance; Wednesday's victory over Boston made them 4-0 this season in elimination games.

Now, however, it's 4-1.

Morning Skate: Guy Boucher proves to be a man of the people

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Morning Skate: Guy Boucher proves to be a man of the people

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while putting the pieces together now that the hockey season is O-V-A-H here in Boston. 
 
-- FOH (Friend of Haggs) Bruce Arthur takes a look at the end of the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who put on a good show with their young, talented crew. 
 
-- In the interest of self-promotion, here is this morning’s interview with Toucher and Rich where I talked about the Bruins taking a step forward despite their season being over. 
 
-- He might look and sound like a Bond Villain, but Guy Boucher was far from it in stopping to shake hands with Senators fans at the airport after their playoff win over the B’s. 
 
-- Interesting that John Stevens is named head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, since the change isn’t expected to be a big departure from what was already going on there. 
 
-- The San Jose Sharks are all done for this season, and one wonders if GM Doug Wilson is going to have to choose between Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau moving forward. 

 -- Speaking of the Senators, PHT writer James O’Brien has Clarke MacArthur and Craig Anderson making Ottawa’s playoff victory all the more emotional

 -- For something completely different: Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is coming to a theatre near you soon, and here’s a review. I’m looking forward to this one.

Haggerty: Cassidy should be rewarded for a job well done

Haggerty: Cassidy should be rewarded for a job well done

BOSTON -- After the Bruins were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs Sunday, nearly every player was in agreement in identifying the turning point of the season:

The coaching change.

The B's went 18-8-1 in the regular season after Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien and rallied to make the playoffs after a late-season, four-game tailspin had them in danger of missing out for the third straight year. And despite being ravaged by injuries, they showed fight and spirit in pushing Ottawa to six games, including a road victory in a double-overtime, Game 5 thriller, before eventually succumbing in overtime, 3-2, on Sunday.

Certainly there were moments of sloppiness -- ill-timed penalties, moments when the Bruins simply couldn't bust through Ottawa's 1-3-1 trap -- but Boston's gutty playoff showing, coupled with the regular-season surge, makes it seem clear Cassidy deserves to be awarded the full-time head coaching gig. 

Several Bruins players voiced their endorsement of Cassidy on Sunday, lauding him for bringing energy, offensive thrust, and open-mindedness to using younger players. 

"The results speak for themselves," said David Backes, who played some of his best hockey in Games 5 and 6 once he was paired with center Sean Kuraly. "We were climbing uphill when [Cassidy] took over and we made our way [to the playoffs] . . . [He] certainly did a heck of a job."

And how does Cassidy -- who had gone more than 13 years since his last NHL head coaching job before replacing Julien on an interim basis, and spending the previous eight seasons at the AHL level in Providence -- feel? 

"Absolutely. 100 percent," said Cassidy, when asked if he wanted the Boston job on a permanent basis.

And if he got it, perhaps those improvements would continue.

"Maybe a full year with him, he changes a few things," said Backes.

"That will be determined going forward by management whether I continue to be the head coach, and what players will be here will [also] be determined by management," said Cassidy. "So it's a tough question to answer [on what improvements need to be made]. I think we scored some goals this year. We were good on the rush as well and the power play . . . and we were always a good forechecking team. This series took on a personality that we were going to have to score on the forecheck. 

"I thought that's why you see guys like [Noel] Acciari and Kuraly get into the lineup and really contribute. It's the strength of their game, and maybe less so from other guys that are more line rush guys. Don't forget, we had a lot of neophytes going into this series in terms of National Hockey League playoffs. So there's a learning curve for them and that's part of the growth process that we hope that, if we're sitting here next year at this time talking about advancing, that they learn something from this year. That's what every team goes through and the [David] Pastrnaks of the world, [Charlie] McAvoy . . . pick your players that are new to it, and [they] have to learn from [it]."

The decision to start Anton Khudobin in Brooklyn late in the regular season after the Bruins had lost four in a row was a turning point-type move, where Cassidy certainly pushed some buttons with No. 1 goalie Tuukka Rask. And his insertion of Kuraly for Ryan Spooner in Game 5 worked on every level, and probably prolonged the series. So give him credit for both of those things along with the pumped-up offense he helped orchestrate in the final few months of the regular season. 

The Bruins won't be making any public statements or pronouncements on Monday, but one has to assume Cassidy holds the inside track on the job after guiding the team back into the playoffs for the first time in three years. Certainly there may be courtesy interviews for other candidates like Providence College coach Nate Leaman, but it's difficult to see anything else Cassidy would have to accomplish to be fit for the position. 

As Backes said himself, the results speak for themselves.