By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins are three wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup, and they've done it by playing in a variety of ways. But ask head coach Bruce Cassidy, and he'll tell you that there's not much variety at all.
Watch the Bruins excel against various kinds of teams and you'd think they're playing a different game each night. They've found success against the speedy, skilled Maple Leafs, the big, tough Blue Jackets, and the aggressive, grinding Carolina Hurricanes. But Cassidy has always deployed the same general system: deep forechecking and net-crashing on offense, structure and quick breakouts on defense, and speed from all of it.
So how, exactly, does Cassidy employ that same approach despite facing different kinds of opponents? Generally, the players tweak their tactics according to matchups. Sometimes Cassidy may do something drastic like switch up the lines. But the overall system remains intact.
"We don’t adjust a lot of our game, and that’s not being arrogant. It’s just we’ve played a certain way all year, we believe it's successful - team defense, hard to play against," Cassidy told reporters after practice on Tuesday. "How are you hard to play against? Usually how you manage the puck. ... Obviously in-game there’s certain things you’ve got to do. We usually shift manpower around, as opposed to trying to change the way we play every night.
"There’s a few little things you can do. With St. Louis, obviously, [in Game 1] - I don’t want say it’s an adjustment - but we started using our speed better in the second period driving wide. Now all of a sudden we got them turning. How did we get them to lose their gap? I think our forecheck was effective and we managed the puck. Usually it starts with that with our team."
Contrast the Bruins using their speed to drive wide around the big-but-not-agile Blues defenders with Boston's approach against Columbus. As Cassidy explained, the Bruins started to have more success when their forwards started "crisscrossing" behind their "sagging" defensemen and beat the Jackets' backtracking forwards to the middle. The details in the approach are different, but the end result is the same. Cassidy recently said he places a premium on winning the "slot battle" and that's the goal you'll see them strive for every game.
But based on who's wearing the opposing sweaters, the methods will morph. The Bruins obviously found a way to dominate the Blues for the majority of the last two periods of Game 1 by adjusting to how the St. Louis defensemen play when back on their heels. It'll be interesting to see if the Blues can re-adjust to Cassidy and the Bruins' adjustments.
As the B's have proven on several occasions in this playoff, there's a chance they find yet another way to adjust to the opponent. But their overall game won't change. That's what has made them hard to play against for all four opponents so far, and it's three wins away from being a championship approach.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].