By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
It’s Bruce Cassidy’s world and we should all be grateful we’re living in it.
Considering the way the Bruins have turned everything around since the coaching change, it’s time to stop complaining that general manager Don Sweeney canned Claude Julien and start wondering why it took him so long.
Sweeney was adamant about not giving up futures at the trade deadline, but the Bruins are now just six points behind Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division after beating the Canadiens 4-0 at TD Garden on Sunday.
Never mind holding on to prospects and picks or fine tuning this team; at this rate Sweeney will have to be a buyer on March 1.
Cassidy knew all along these Bruins had all this emotion and confidence in them. Clearly Julien was stifling them and him.
“You know at times we certainly played with it,” Cassidy said. “I think there’s been solid games for our group throughout the year, and we’ve had others where we’ve just needed more confidence. So it’s bit and pieces. We just need it more consistently and hopefully this is a step in that direction.”
Am I getting carried away? Well the Bruins, after matching a season-high for consecutive wins overall and consecutive wins at home, now have five days before their next practice and six days before their next game, at San Jose on Feb. 19. So there’s plenty of time for the enthusiasm to die down.
For now, there should be jubilation throughout New England because one day after Kevan Miller scored a sniper’s goal in a win against the Vancouver Canucks, Adam McQuaid buried his second goal on a backdoor cut that any mobile defenseman would be proud of.
One day after the Bruins got a rare win from their backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, a win rarer than a Yeti sighting, Tuukka Rask made 25 saves for his 36th career shutout in his first ever home win against Montreal in the regular season. Rask passed Frank “Mr. Zero” Brimsek for second place on the Bruins’ all-time shutout list, earning the nickname “Mr. Nolla.” (That’s Finnish for zero for those too lazy to use Google Translate.)
Zdeno Chara scored a shorthanded goal for the first time since Jan. 1, 2011. And you remember what happened five months after that, don’t you? Well don’t you?
And it’s all because of new Jack Adams Award candidate Bruce Cassidy.
“It’s great. I think we found that groove now, we’re kind of making plays for the most part, at least in the offensive zone,” Rask said about watching his new-look teammates give him leads to work with. “And we’re pretty much moving as a unit up the ice the ice and down the ice. So that’s good. We’re skating hard and that’s something we need to continue to do. Butchie addressed that, we’re going to practice with pace and we’re going to keep the pace going so we can transfer that straight to the games and I think it’s paid off the last three games.”
Maybe the only thing standing between the Bruins and a Columbus Blue Jackets-style winning streak (16 games!) is the CBA-required five-day break that starts Monday. What a way to spoil a Cinderella story. (Imagine if Cinderella went to the ball, but the prince didn’t find the slipper for a week.) Worse still, the Bruins will come out of the break and have to take on the dreaded California teams with three games over the course of five nights. That’s when we’ll find out if the Bruins can continue to play with the aggression of Bruce Cassidy or if they morph into a team that plays like David Cassidy.
But after dabbling in the wild-card and divisional third-place races for most of the season, the Bruins can now consider themselves contenders for the title in maybe the weakest division in the NHL. Six points is nothing, assuming Ottawa doesn’t rack up all the points it can when playing its five games in hand on both Boston and Montreal.
“Our thinking is to try to win every game,” Chara said. “We know the standings, we know it’s very tight. … We can look at the standings as much as we want but I think that we really have to focus on how we play and how we want to go into every game and what we can do to do as many things as possible.”
With Cassidy pushing the right buttons right now, it seems anything is possible.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.