BOSTON (CBS) – Every plotting mastermind has an arch-nemesis and Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy met his match Thursday: The King.
New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves to hand the Bruins their first home loss in five games under Cassidy, 2-1 at TD Garden.
It was the Bruins’ second loss under Cassidy in nine games.
The revitalized Bruins, who’ve scored more than four goals per game since the switch from Claude Julien to Cassidy on Feb. 7, couldn’t solve Lundqvist while outshooting the Rangers 9-3. Even a three-line switcheroo, a late-game staple for the Bruins in desperate situations under Julien, couldn’t help the Bruins get the better of Lundqvist, who might’ve also had a little luck on his side on his 35th birthday.
After playing the Rangers to a 0-0 deadlock through two periods and then falling behind 2-0, Cassidy pulled the emergency lever and reunited the line of David Pastrnak skating on the right wing next to the super duo of Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. It paid off with the Bruins’ lone goal — Marchand tapped in a rebound of a Pastrnak shot — but the equalizer eluded the Bruins.
“Well I thought about [changing the lines] earlier but you’re in a 0-0 game and you don’t want to outthink yourself either,” Cassidy explained. “You want to give guys a chance, certain lines to play through or generate [offense]. I thought we got some chances with the lines, we just didn’t finish. And then when they got the lead, well, as good a time as any.
“We’ve moved Pasta in there at certain points. We know if can be a very dynamic offensive line. If we put it together tomorrow it’d be a great line for good. But we’ve tried to balance the scoring. I think it’s worked out for the most part, it just didn’t happen tonight in terms of finish. So that’s why we made the switch.”
Although the Bruins played harder through three periods than they did most games early in the season, the loss to the Rangers was still eerily similar to many of the Bruins’ crushing defeats in the Julien portion of the schedule. They earned plenty of scoring chances but lacked finish. They got their only offense from the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line. The rest of the trios, which in the third period featured David Krejci centering Frank Vatrano and Peter Cehlarik, and Ryan Spooner in between Matt Beleskey and David Backes, didn’t make much of an impact. The Bruins had two defensive breakdowns, and they both wound up in their net. And, of course, it all happened at the Garden, which had been a house of horrors for the Bruins the past two seasons before the Cassidy era began.
“We played pretty good,” Marchand said, echoing his thoughts from several losses this season. “Obviously a few mistakes. You’re not going to dominate the whole game but I thought we played a pretty good game. The second period, they took it to us a little bit. But for the most part we were pretty good.”
Luckily for the Bruins, they don’t face the Rangers again this season. But they have some crucial divisional and conference games coming up, including three games against Ottawa. Eleven of the Bruins’ final 18 games are on home ice. They’re going to have to prove they’re resilient enough to bounce back, talented enough to score against elite goaltenders and are immune to the Garden jinx. If they’re hoping trade acquisition Drew Stafford’s going to step in and save the day, they’re going to be disappointed.
Cassidy didn’t sound like a coach basking in any morale victories after outplaying the Rangers for much of the night.
“Well the takeaway is we lost and at this time of the year we need points,” he said. “That’s the big picture. But certainly we look at every game and say ‘what did we do well?’ We started well. We didn’t finish the way we’d like to in terms of scoring in the first period. We did a lot of things well but not enough, obviously.”
If Cassidy’s the mastermind he’s been made out to be, he’ll conjure up a way to squeeze some more offense out of the Bruins in the games ahead. And he’ll get them to tighten up their defensive play and the Rangers loss will just be a brief reminder of what the first two thirds of this season looked like instead of a reversion to the Bruins’ form from the days of Julien.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.