Bruce Cassidy summed it up better than anybody could when asked how Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Rangers continued to prepare his team for the playoffs.
“No one got hurt, so that’s one thing,” Cassidy remarked. “You’ve got to take care of business and play to your strengths [and] I thought we did that.”
The former is the key here, too, as the Bruins look about as locked in as one could hope with three games remaining in their rapid-fire 2021 regular season slate.
Now, there’s something to be said for taking care of business against a team with absolutely no energy or will. (And the Rangers, fresh off an emotional Wednesday rematch with the Capitals and with nothing to play for, certainly check the box.) But the Bruins played as tight and clean a game as we’ve seen in recent memory, with this game looking absolutely o-v-e-r after Charlie McAvoy’s first-period power-play goal extended the B’s lead to two while Jeremy Swayman hardly broke a sweat with a 15-save shutout for his seventh victory of the season.
It’s the kind of smothering, shutdown effort that the Bruins know can take them far when things get real.
“We did a real good job in front of our goaltender,” said Cassidy.”We did not give up much. Obviously, we had a team come in here that went through an emotional process. But still, you still have to play the game and I thought we did a real good job.”
Going back to the Mike Reilly-Brandon Carlo pairing for the second game in a row, the Bruins’ potential second pairing logged almost 18 and a half minutes together, and looked like anything but a duo playing their first full game together. The Bruins dominated with this pairing on the ice, too, with a corsi-for percentage of 78.8 and an 11-3 shots advantage. The Bruins also scored two goals, including the game-sealing bank-shot goal from Carlo.
“Pairs seemed to work well together,” Cassidy, who added that his defense didn’t play with any recklessness, acknowledged. “Reilly-Carlo is one [pairing] we hadn’t seen. Got to that a bit in New Jersey, liked what we saw, so figured we’d follow up.
“Brandon’s eager to get back in the mix. He’s closing as well as anybody, he’s a little fresher. Liked his offensive instincts tonight. Reilly moves the puck well, he’s been off the ice a little bit, so for him it’s keeping his legs under him, getting the battle level where it needs to be for playoff hockey in the next week. They both have good attributes in terms of size and good sticks. Obviously, Brandon’s more the defender and Reilly the puck mover, but they can both complement each other there as well.”
Offensive dynamo Brandon Carlo scores his third goal of the season.— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) May 7, 2021
4-0 Bruins. pic.twitter.com/CN7pMp2cbE
Carlo’s seamless jump back into the mix has been especially impressive, too, and undoubtedly helps ease some of the burden on the Bruins’ top pairing anchored by McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk or Jeremy Lauzon depending on the situation.
“[Carlo]’s a huge part of our backend,” McAvoy acknowledged. “He’s so good defensively and to see him the last few games get pucks on net and make plays in the offensive zone, it’s awesome to see his confidence where it’s at. He’s a tremendous player and means a lot to this group. To have him back and to see him playing well and be a big part of it is awesome.”
The immediate success of the Reilly-Carlo pairing answers a major question for the Bruins (though the Bruins are aware of the small sample size aspect of their shine), and allowed the Bruins to focus on what they may very well consider matchup-based defensive pairings, with Lauzon skating opposite Kevan Miller on a rock-’em, sock-’em third pairing, while Grzelcyk and McAvoy remained together for the Black an Gold’s superhuman, pace-pushing first pairing.
All three pairings finished above water, too, and provided the Bruins with a balance reminiscent of what we’ve seen up front since the trade deadline, which has come with a league-best 11-2-1 record for the B’s.
“That’s what we’re looking at right now,” Cassidy said of his six-man defensive unit, which also features a strong seventh option with the surging Connor Clifton. “Some chemistry has been there and some of it is going to be developed on the fly here.”
“We’re trying to build our game towards the playoffs,” captain Patrice Bergeron said. “[Thursday] was about us making sure that we’re playing the way we want to play and everyone contributing. And I thought we did that.”
Now comes the most important part, especially for the backend: making sure no one gets hurt.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.