A Classic matchup at Gillette between Bruins, Canadiens

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A Classic matchup at Gillette between Bruins, Canadiens

FOXBORO --The Boston Bruins didn’t grab all the sports headlines of the day hearabouts, thanks to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

But the B’s did produce the most positive sports story of the day . . . thanks also, in large part, to the Patriots.

Robert Kraft made it two press conferences in the same day, representing the Pats organization Wednesday afternoon when the NHL formally announced the Jan. 1 Winter Classic match between the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens at the Pats' Gillette Stadium home.

The Bruins will be the first team in NHL history to host the Winter Classic twice. They played the Flyers at Fenway Park in 2010.

All the excited chatter Wednesday was about the historic rivalry between Boston and Montreal, two franchises that have played each other in more Game 7’s in the playoffs than any other two organizations in any of the four major professional sports leagues.

The Bruins and Canadiens have faced off 729 times during the regular season, tied for the most head-to-head meetings in NHL history with Chicago vs. Detroit. The B's-Habs 177 head-to-head playoff games and 34 postseason series are the most in league history, while their nine head-to-head Game 7s lead all teams in North American major professional sports (includes MLB, NBA and NHL).

Sounds like a compelling match for folks planning to tune into the NBC Network on New Year’s Day for a hockey game.

“I want to thank the Bruins fans for their enthusiasm and support because that’s truly what brought this wonderful event back to New England,” said Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs. “I’m fully confident that our team will repay that loyalty with a big win over our friends from Montreal. I look forward to Gillette Stadium being a sea of Black and Gold on Jan. 1.”

Above and beyond the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also announced that a Bruins/Canadiens Legends game will be played on Dec. 31 between many of the B’s and Habs alumni that have made the rivalry what it is. There will also be plenty of events surrounding the Winter Classic in Foxboro, just as there were nearly six years ago at Fenway, and all those announcements will be made in the days and weeks ahead.

“When you think about sports franchises with traditions of excellence and success, the Boston Bruins, the Montreal Canadiens and the New England Patriots would have to rank at the top of any list,” said Bettman. “When you think about rivalries that perfectly summarize the excitement and passion of NHL hockey, the enduring legacy of the Bruins and Canadiens would merit lofty status as well. The 2016 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic will be the 910th regular-season or playoff meeting between these two clubs, but it will be the first one, however, played outdoors.”

Information on a pre-sale for Bruins season-ticket holders, Canadiens season-ticket holders and Patriots season-ticket holders will be sent to those groups by each club in the coming days. Information regarding ticket availability for the general public will be released at a later date.

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.