By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Heading in to Game 7 on Wednesday night, the Boston Bruins needed some goal scoring. Badly.
They scored three times in a Game 5 loss, though two were the benefit of some fortunate bounces. They scored just once in Game 6, a goal which came when Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey screened his own goaltender. Not coincidentally, both games were losses for Boston.
So, with a do-or-die Game 7 set for Wednesday, the temptation had to be there for head coach Bruce Cassidy to call upon the dynamic talent of Ryan Donato for some help in the goal scoring department.
But Cassidy, who prior to Wednesday’s game was officially named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the coach of the year in the NHL, resisted the urge. Instead, he re-inserted Danton Heinen after scratching the rookie from the lineup in Game 6.
Had the Bruins lost Game 7 and struggled to score, it was a move that would have been questioned all summer long. But Cassidy was rewarded quickly for following his gut, when Heinen pounced on a loose puck and fired it past Frederik Andersen to tie the game at 2-2 in the first period.
It was a response that Cassidy has gotten time and time again from the young players on his roster this season, as he hasn’t been hesitant to sit them in the press box for a game or two but has always re-inserted them into the lineup and given them their chances to reestablish themselves.
“Danton Heinen scored a big goal for us early. I thought it was his hardest game on the puck in a long time,” Cassidy said after the win. “He wanted his spot back, and we’ve talked about that with the young guys too – giving them rope, and then pulling them back a little, and we’ve gotten good responses from them.”
Of course, Cassidy didn’t have a complete magic touch in Game 7. He opted to send his fourth line of Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari on the ice for the opening faceoff of the game, a move which backfired fairly quickly when Kuraly took a tripping minor behind the Toronto net 30 seconds into the game. The Leafs scored on the ensuing power play to take an early 1-0 lead.
But overall, sticking with the lineup that made the Bruins one of the top teams in the entire NHL all year long for Game 7 paid off for Cassidy as well. After averaging 2.25 goals per game from Games 3-6, the Bruins broke out with six goals on Andersen before Brad Marchand deposited an empty netter to make it a clean seven goals for the home team. The final scoreboard read 7-4 in favor of the Bruins, and as a result, nobody will be second-guessing Cassidy for the next six months for keeping the reins on Donato.
The decision to keep Donato in his finest suit on level nine also prevented Cassidy from having to juggle any lines, which could have meant shifting Jake DeBrusk up or down the lineup. (Donato, who posted 4-3-7 totals in his first seven NHL games, was at his best when playing on David Krejci’s left wing in the regular season.) DeBrusk ended up scoring on the power play in the first period before scoring the game-winner on an outstanding individual effort while skating with Krejci in a 4-on-4 situation.
It was an incredible night for DeBrusk, one that left Cassidy impressed. Still, ever the coach, Cassidy made sure after the game to not yet place DeBrusk in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Well, we’ll see going forward, right?” Cassidy replied when asked what a game like that can do for DeBrusk. “Obviously, it helps. You’re a young guy, you want to prove yourself, you want to be known as – all of the guys want to be known as guys that can play in the big moments. Obviously you’ve got Stanley Cup champions in the room, they’ve proven that. You’ve got to prove it over and over, don’t get me wrong, but [the young guys don’t] have that on their resume. These are the kind of games Jake wants. … So, we’ll see where it goes for Jake. We need him to score. He’s on a scoring line, and he’s become a better 200-foot player. Happy for him, again. We’ll see where it leads.”
The 21-year-old DeBrusk has a long career ahead of him, but for the time being, the bigger story is that the 2017-18 Bruins have at least four more games left in their season. That’s at least in part due to the coach’s innate ability to keep his finger on the pulse of his team.