A thought-provoking series

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A thought-provoking series

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

This series is interesting.

I got to watch the first game of the Eastern Conference finals at close range. Well, kind of. Of all the floors lining the guts of TD Garden, my seat on the 9th floor was as high up as you could get. Not a bad place to take the whole scene in. The crowd's roars reached the rafters with an intensity I have never before heard in that building.

Surprisingly, it makes for a good place to think.

My eyes were two of the thousands on Tyler Seguin Saturday night. 'A final at age 19,' I marveled. 'Thrilling. Terrifying. There's probably a little peesicle frozen to his leg right now.' But then I scanned over 25-year old Nathan Horton, in full stride of his first career playoff run; Tim Thomas, 37-year old NHL journeyman; and 43-year old Stanley Cup champion Mark Recchi. None of these guys have represented Boston in the Eastern Conference finals. Every single member of this club is trying to do something no Bruins have done since the year Seguin was born, so that amount of pressure from the city rests evenly across all shoulders.

For one moment, Seguin didn't seem to feel it.

His goal was gorgeous. I could have watched him spin Mike Lundin down to the ice on loop. And that one, pretty move to fool Dwayne Roloson glove side made me wonder about all that hype. No doubt, the teenager didn't sleep a wink Friday night. But he's a goal-scorer. For everything else that blew Seguin away -- the lights, the banners, the noise, the cameras -- I bet he was calm as he rushed through the neutral zone.

Calm? Yes. Clean? Nope.

If we could freeze-frame the action when Seguin's working along the half-wall or in his own zone, pluck him out, and insert somebody else I'd do it in a heartbeat. Those are the areas where he reminded us of his inexperience. And that's where 19 years really means different things to different players.

Tuukka Rask is another guy I was thinking about.

Remember him? That other goalie. Last year's must-have, shutdown netminder. He was the guy I zeroed in on when Tim Thomas let up goal No. 3 on Saturday night. I was too far away to tell, but wanted to know if he craned his neck toward coach Claude Julien after Teddy Purcell scored. On reflex. Did he get his hopes up? Was he antsy as a Little League pitcher stuck riding the pine while the starter walks three straight batters? "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon. Put me in!" (Or whatever the Finnish equivalent is.) Obviously, it didn't happen. And it probably won't; Tim Thomas is expected to tighten up.

He'll need to.

Tampa got its big win without a goal from its top talent. The marksmen: Brett Clark, Sean Bergenheim, Teddy Purcell, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and Simon Gagne. No St. Louis (one assist), no Lecavalier, and no Stamkos. That's going to change. Lecavalier had five shots Saturday night, including a brilliant opportunity in the first period that Thomas barely stopped with a sprawling save. And how about zero SOG from Steven Stamkos? We won't be seeing that again. The Bruins may be banking on Thomas tamping down, but they can also expect a heavier assault from Tampa's first two lines.

That when I considered Boston's power play.

Nah, just kidding. Not even going to go there. The Bruins have one huge piece of the PP puzzle missing in Marc Savard and another big other piece, Tomas Kaberle, is equally but less understandably useless. For spectators, Boston's man advantage is best for two-minute power naps or trips to the fridge to get another beer -- it's a fact like E = mc2 or "Pierre McGuire thinks James van Riemsdyk is a fine young man." (WHAMMO!) There's nothing more to say until the Bruins provide evidence to the contrary.

I can drink as many beers as I want tonight; I'm watching Game 2 at home. It'll be a lot quieter, that's for sure. But there'll still be plenty to think about.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Cassidy ‘proud, honored and privileged’ after getting Bruins' permanent gig

Cassidy ‘proud, honored and privileged’ after getting Bruins' permanent gig

BOSTON – Bruce Cassidy made just a passing mention of the 14 years in between NHL head coaching gigs, but there’s no doubt the newest head coach of the Bruins thought many times about a day just like Thursday morning. 

His general manager complimented the work he did to lead the Bruins to an 18-8-1 record after taking over after Claude Julien’s dismissal and guiding the Bruins back to the playoffs for the first time in three years.

“I think it was an important step and I think that our players, our core players in particular, some of them had tremendous seasons. Their demand to make sure our younger players sort of catch up and play the right way – we pushed the group,” said GM Don Sweeney. “I think Bruce, in particular, our staff and Bruce, they really pushed the group to get to a higher pace. I think our aggressive nature churned.

“I think something that I felt would be injected into our group right from Day One at practice because I know what his core principles are, and I think the group responded. The record speaks for itself.”

Cassidy embraced all of the defensive strengths of Julien’s existing system and tweaked things for chances to be more aggressive and creative in the offensive zone with a Black and Gold roster that clearly had more to give. 

Clearly, it came up short for Sweeney, Cassidy and the Bruins when their undermanned, injured roster fell to the Ottawa Senators in six games in the first round of the playoffs, but Thursday morning was a good day for the 51-year-old Cassidy after grinding his way back to the big leagues.

“I’ve made no secret that I grew up adoring this team and I’m very proud, honored, and privileged to be a part of it, and to be named the head coach [of the Bruins],” said Cassidy, who coached the Washington Capitals from 2002-04 and spent eight seasons coaching in Providence before joining Julien’s staff as an assistant coach this season. “To be quite honest, the core group, the veteran leadership, they gave me an opportunity to go in and earn their respect, and they bought into what we were selling for the most part…not for the most part, 100 percent.

“The veteran guys, they afforded me that opportunity and I can’t thank them enough. We’ve got some Stanley Cup champions in that room and it showed with the high character players and I was very thankful for that. From there, we’re trying to build something together now. That’s the process going forward.”

The numbers certainly didn’t lie. The offense went up in the post-Julien era and the defense actually performed better under Cassidy: The Bruins ranked first in the NHL in goals per game (3.37), first in the NHL in fewest shots allowed (741), tied for second in the NHL in wins (18), tied for second in the NHL in power-play percentage (27.8), tied for third in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.30), tied for fifth in the NHL in face-off percentage (53.6) and tied for sixth in the NHL in takeaways (229).

Anecdotally, the Bruins also performed much more consistently on their home ice at TD Garden and pulled out of the kind of late season four-game losing tailspin that doomed the B’s in the previous two seasons under Julien. It was a challenge for Cassidy taking over midway through the season without the benefit of the training camp, but it was one that embraced and ultimately excelled at in earning the full-time gig.

“It’s hard to measure the degree of difficulty [taking over midseason]. You’re given an opportunity and it’s up to you to take advantage of it and be prepared. I’ve been a head coach before so, once you’re into that part of it, it becomes second nature. I was around since training camp, so I knew the players and some of their strengths and weaknesses, how we played, where I thought we could be better, where the players were looking for improvements after talking to them quickly in those first couple of days. So, we implemented a couple of things, and off we went,” said Cassidy. “You hope that you make the right call in those areas we talked about; right away, about being a team that would play – and the term “play fast” is getting thrown around a lot out there -- but, we were going to upgrade our transition game; how we were going to move the puck quicker and attack.

“I guess that was our description of playing fast. I think it worked. It got our D involved, so you start scoring and obviously, that helped. People get excited about that – scoring goals and getting on offense. I don’t think we lost a lot on the defensive side of things. As we went along, we tried to maintain that balance. That was the message right away. Players bought in and we had success, and that obviously helps. Winning solves a lot of problems and puts a lot of smiles on people’s faces.”

The biggest smile on a face on Thursday morning was on Cassidy, who has come full circle with life experience and a second chance to be the kind of NHL head coach he always knew he could be while working, growing and succeeding in the AHL. Now the Bruins have a president, GM and head coach all working in tandem with the same philosophies and world view when it comes to how their team should play and Cassidy gets another chance to prove how ready he is for the challenge of making good on his second NHL chance. 


 

‘No firm decision yet’ from Bjork about signing with Bruins

‘No firm decision yet’ from Bjork about signing with Bruins

BOSTON – The Bruins still hold out hope they’ll be able to sign Anders Bjork this summer as he prepares to play for Team USA at the World Championships.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney said there’s an active dialogue ongoing with the Bruins prospect’s family advisor since Bjork finished a Hobey Baker-level junior season at Notre Dame and he has yet to inform the B’s brass of a final decision. 

The 20-year-old is coming off 21 goals and 52 points for a Notre Dame team that lost in the opening rounds of the Frozen Four and clearly would be a fast-skating, offensively polished winger who could potentially be a top-six left wing candidate for David Krejci’s line.

Sweeney made it clear the ball is completely in Bjork’s court at this point, but there becomes a real danger he could follow the Jimmy Vesey route to unrestricted free agency if he heads back to college for his senior season. The B’s general manager made it clear that they would like the 5-foot-11, 183-pounder in the fold, and there are plans for him next season and beyond if he decided to sign an entry-level deal this summer.

“We’ve had discussions. We’ll continue to have discussions. He hasn’t made a firm decision, whether or not he’s leaving school. So it will be his decision,” said Sweeney. “The opportunity is there for him to join us, and we’d like him to. But again, that’s his decision to make at the right time.”

Bjork, a former fifth-round pick, has clearly elevated his NHL profile since he was drafted three years ago, and also holds strong ties to Notre Dame: His father Kirt was an All-American hockey player there and his cousin, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Erik Condra, also played for the Irish. So there might be real, genuine interest for Bjork to return to Notre Dame for personal reasons, and another chance at an NCAA title with a loaded group after falling a couple of games short this season.