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Bruins’ 2022-23 season gets worse as Bruce Cassidy returns to Stanley Cup Final

What does Cassidy’s return to the Stanley Cup Final tell us about the Bruins? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Bruce Cassidy must be feeling pretty good right now.

Almost a year after being fired by the Boston Bruins, the veteran head coach is returning to the Stanley Cup Final after his Vegas Golden Knights clinched the Western Conference title with an emphatic 6-0 win over the Dallas Stars in Game 6 on Monday night.

Ironically, Cassidy’s Golden Knights will square off against the team that beat the Bruins in the first round — the Florida Panthers.

Cassidy returning to the Cup Final is a tough sight for Bruins fans, and it’ll get even more difficult if he does what the B’s couldn’t — beat the Panthers and win the Stanley Cup.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to coach in the NHL for any team. For me, it happens to be with the Golden Knights,” Cassidy told reporters after Vegas clinched its second Cup Final berth as a franchise. “We were looking at it as a family as a new adventure for us, and here we are going to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s what you want, but so do 31 other teams, right? Only two get to go there. It feels great right now. I think as a coach you’ll enjoy it for a bit and then it’s right back to work.

“I’ve been there once and it didn’t work out — lost in Game 7. So you know there’s a lot of work ahead, but I do believe you have to enjoy these moments, it’s not easy to do.”

It’s easy to look back at the Bruins’ decision to fire Cassidy and call it a mistake.

But the Golden Knights’ success with Cassidy doesn’t guarantee he would have done the same in Boston this season. He’s done a great job in Vegas, to be fair, but the Golden Knights have reached at least the conference finals in four of their six seasons as a franchise. They have a roster loaded with stars, excellent role players and postseason experience. They needed a different voice after losing in the first round last season — someone who would hold the players accountable and clean up some of their defensive issues, and Cassidy has delivered on all of those fronts.

So, what does the situation look like a year later for the Bruins?

New head coach Jim Montgomery, at least during the regular season, gave the Bruins pretty much everything they wanted after firing Cassidy.

In Cassidy’s final season behind the bench. the Bruins weren’t scoring enough at 5-on-5. They often out-shot opponents by a wide margin but the quality of scoring chances was lacking. The team wasn’t playing with enough speed. Young players were not developing as well as expected.

Fast forward to the 2022-23 campaign with Montgomery behind the bench and the Bruins had one of the best regular seasons ever. They went from No. 15 goals scored during Cassidy’s last season to No. 2 with Montgomery. They also ranked No. 1 in goals allowed and save percentage. Young players such as Jake DeBrusk and Trent Frederic had career seasons. After failing to generate enough offense from the blue line in 2021-22, the Bruins had four defensemen tally 23-plus points. Hampus Lindholm (54 points) and Connor Clifton (23 points) set new career highs. Charlie McAvoy posted 52 points despite missing 15 games. The Bruins also improved from No. 15 in 5-on-5 goals scored under Cassidy to No. 2 with Montgomery.

The Bruins got better — and in some cases significantly better — in so many areas under Montgomery. Boston won the Presidents’ Trophy after setting league records for the most wins and the most points in league history.


Of course, it all fell apart in the playoffs.

The Bruins inexplicably had trouble scoring at 5-on-5. The goaltending went from elite to below average. It looked like the pressure of expectations following a record-breaking regular season weighed on them. The Bruins turned the puck over way too often and in the worst possible spots. Injuries were also a huge factor. No. 1 goalie and likely Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark clearly wasn’t 100 percent healthy in the first round. Patrice Bergeron had a tough back injury and missed the first five games. Hampus Lindholm played the entire series with a fracture in his foot. Other players were banged up, too.

Montgomery didn’t have a perfect series by any stretch. His line shuffling was head scratching at times, especially to begin Game 5 versus the Panthers. He also didn’t handle the goalie situation very well, either.

But would the Bruins, given their injuries and other issues, really have done much better under Cassidy in Round 1?

Let’s not forget, this is largely the same group that advanced past the second round only once in six playoff runs with Cassidy from 2017 through 2022. That stretch includes a pair of first-round exits, too. Teams that played physical with an aggressive forecheck — like the 2022-23 Panthers — gave Cassidy’s Bruins teams plenty of problems for six years.

Panthers’ run to Stanley Cup Final makes Bruins’ loss even more painful

Montgomery and Cassidy are both really good coaches. They both have enjoyed lots of regular season success with the Bruins. What’s the common denominator from their respective tenures in Boston? The players failing to perform at a high level on a consistent basis in the playoffs.

The issue with the Bruins clearly is not coaching. The problem is the players, and specifically goaltending to a large degree. The Golden Knights’ save percentage in the 2023 playoffs is .920 — the fourth-best among the 16 playoff teams. The Bruins’ save percentage against the Panthers was .893 — fifth-worst among the playoff field. Boston’s save percentage against Carolina in last season’s first-round series was .897 — the third-worst of the 16 playoff teams.

Same quality of goaltending, same exit from the playoffs back-to-back years despite two different, well-respected coaches behind the bench in those playoff runs.

It’s super easy to point at the coaching as the problem. It’s always easier to fire the coach than blow up the roster. But if the Bruins are going to make a deep playoff run next season, coaching won’t be the No. 1 factor. It will be on the players, and especially the goaltenders, to consistently play at a high level in clutch situations.

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