The days of mediocrity for the Boston Bruins are long gone. Head Coach Bruce Cassidy is here to stay and has ignited a new flavor of Bruins hockey with a team full of new, young, energetic players. To be honest, I, and many other fans, were skeptical of the team’s new roster, although a change was needed. In 2017, Boston ended a two-year playoff drought (which seemed more like 50 years to Boston fans), but they looked sluggish and lacked purpose in a six-game first-round loss to the Ottawa Senators. This season, the Bruins hit a 4-3-3 record. On the rare opportunities that I got to watch a game in the midst of studying for Chemistry tests and writing essays on Franz Kafka for English class, I noticed that, despite a lackluster record, there was something different about Bruins hockey that I had not seen before: speed.
Ever since I began watching the Bruins at 8 years old, their strategy has always been defend first, then dump the puck into the offensive zone and haphazardly chase after it. While effective—before the playoff drought, Boston had at least gone to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals every year, including two Stanley Cup appearances and one championship—it wasn’t the most fun to watch. The Bruins traded away every speed and skill player they had. These types of players, such as former Bruins Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, and Tyler Seguin, had playmaking abilities but didn’t fit the Bruins’ mentality or style.
However, things have changed with a new front office and coaching staff starting last offseason. The Bruins immediately shipped off their players who had grit but lacked skill—players with that classic Bruins mentality. The Providence Bruins, Boston’s affiliate development team, boasted an abundance of young talent, including Forward Jake DeBrusk and Defenseman Charlie McAvoy. When both were called up to Boston, there was a lot of excitement to see how these players would fit alongside current players. I remember thinking after the first 10 games of the season that the Bruins weren’t going to win many games, but they’d be fun to watch.
And was I wrong! After a slow start, Boston picked things up and quickly became one of the best teams in the league. Once Goalie Tuukka Rask began to play better, the wins kept piling on. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak had career seasons with 85 and 80 points, respectively, and Patrice Bergeron continued to be one of the best two-way players in the game. What was most impressive about this team were the rookies’ ability to keep up not only with the rest of the NHL, but also to be productive and help the team win. Even Ryan Donato, who was called up to the Bruins in March, did not shy away from more experienced and proven players and managed to score two goals in his NHL debut. I noticed this new team abandoned the scrappy and tough look that the Bruins had worn for so long; the fourth-liners, who are often brought on the team to fight and get the team going, were still skill players (no more Shawn Thornton). While I do enjoy watching hockey fights and big hits, it was neat to have four lines who could be counted on offensively. Bruce Cassidy had offensive-minded players on the fourth line, including Tim Schaller and Danton Heinen.
With a 50-20-12 record and second-place finish in the Atlantic Division, the Bruins were ready to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs. For me, this was a nightmare of a matchup because of Toronto’s explosive and high-flying youngsters like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. However, Boston’s new set of young talent evenly matched Toronto, and Boston beat the Maple Leafs in a close seven-game series, with the last game ending in a wild 7-3 victory.
In the end, Boston was not able to overcome the experienced Tampa Bay Lightning team in the second round, losing in five games. Despite winning Game 1 decisively in Tampa Bay, the Bruins’ offensive faltered drastically and they were unable to score an even-strength goal in the last three games of the series. Even while outplayed, Boston never lost its fight and its ability to get in the heads of the Lightning players. Videos of Brad Marchand licking Ryan Callahan will be replayed for a long time to come. While losing to the Lightning was a tough way to end the series, it is only the beginning for an exciting Bruins squad full of youth and potential.