It’s been a bit too easy to discredit what the Bruins have done this season.
Prior to the COVID pause, the Bruins were beating up on bad teams and losing to good ones. Almost exclusively. You could even find problems with the games they were winning if you wanted to poke and prod. Their October win over the Panthers, which came with the Panthers on the second leg of a back-to-back and with their backup in net, was a perfect example of that. Hell, even December, revenge victories over the Flames and Oilers shine a bit less given what those teams have done since.
You could’ve done it with their recent 2022 strides, too, if you wanted to be a real hard-ass about it. (And don’t we all because what’s life if there’s any sort of joy or happiness in New England?) But, sure, if you wanna hard-ass it up, they beat up on a Lightning team without Ryan McDonagh — and even Brad Marchand said that the Bolts didn’t bring their top stuff that night — and the Capitals trotted out their newest flavor of the month goaltender last Monday.
Big deal. Tomato, tomato, tomato.
But there’s no denying what the Bruins pulled off Saturday against the Predators.
This was without question their best test to date, and they passed with flying colors.
Start with the obvious: The Preds have established themselves as a legit threat in the West. In fact, they entered Saturday as the top team in the West. Since their loss to the Bruins last month, they’ve been white hot, with a 12-2-1 record. Something about that loss certainly stuck with Nashville, which is all you needed to know about their mindset entering Boston.
Facing that test, the Bruins had the mental toughness to overcome two blown leads — the Preds bouncd back from an 0-2 hole and then scored the game-tying goal just 2:36 after Brad Marchand put the Bruins back on top in the third period — and came through with two clutch penalty kills against the league’s fourth-best power-play unit.
Oh, and the Predators popped the Bruins for a season-high 46 hits. But the Bruins nearly matched ’em in that respect (they had 45 hits by the night’s end), and didn’t let it derail them from the challenge in front of them. In fact, it appeared that the Bruins were the aggressors on the physicality front. That started at the top, too, as Taylor Hall engaged with Nashville’s Tanner Jeannot early, while Marchand tagged Dante Fabbro late. This was with the Bruins missing two of their harder hitting forwards — Trent Frederic and Nick Foligno — up front, and with an incomplete defensive grouping.
“Very [pleased], to be honest with you,” Cassidy said of his team’s ability to keep up from a physical standpoint. “We tried to finish the checks that were there. Certainly everybody’s capable of it. We saw that with Marchy on Fabbro, good clean hit, drills Josi in overtime, clean hit. So they were out there, so take them. I thought Taylor Hall had a good hit early on and then just the other ones where you got to rub people out [and] finish so they don’t jump into the play.”
“Marchy’s physical without open-ice hits. He goes to dirty areas. A lot of guys on our team are starting to feel comfortable, myself included, playing that type of game and that’s how you back teams off,” Hall admitted. “They’re an aggressive team. They’re a team that wants to get going up the ice. And especially with [Josi] back there and their mobile defense, if you can stop them from having their momentum coming up the ice, that’s huge.
“Then when you get a chance to pop someone clean, shoulder-to-shoulder or shoulder-to-chest, it’s a really good thing to do. It gets the crowd going and gets our bench going. And it doesn’t need to be a fight every time. I mean, the other team’s mad at honest, clean hits, then that’s their problem. But we know what we have to do.”
“All in all, I’d describe it as a playoff style game and we responded well,” said Cassidy.
The P word is the key there, too. This is something the Bruins are going to have to bring to have any sort of success this spring and summer. The roster is just built differently this time around, and the hope is that it’s more built to handle what has repeatedly limited them. The Bruins believe they’ve addressed one postseason problem — the Bruins have shown a noticeably better willingness and ability to drive towards the hard ice in the attacking zone — but matching and setting tones is just as important. The latter was a huge problem when it came to New York’s fourth line compared to Boston’s last June.
And though you can’t play a full 82 like that, having the knowledge that you can dial it up is simply huge.
“Ultimately, that’s the team you want to be: You want to be able to play different styles of games,” said Hall. “Not every game is going to be the same, but if we can be physical at the right times, especially on our home ice, that’s going to be a real strength of ours as the season goes on, and when the playoffs start, you know you need to be able to have that game in your bag.”
Now and down the road.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 4-3 overtime final over the Predators…