Have yourself a day, Bruce Cassidy.
Just minutes before the Bruins’ Game 7 puck drop against the Maple Leafs, the league revealed the Bruins bench boss as one of three finalists for the Jack Adams Award.
Cassidy led the team to a 50-20-12 record and a second straight postseason appearance during his first full season behind the Bruins bench. He joins Jared Bednar of the Avalanche and Gerard Gallant of the Golden Knights in the Jack Adams trio.
Gallant is a lock to win the award, but the nomination is still a huge and well-deserved honor for Cassidy.
“He’s been great for us. He’s a very smart and intelligent guy,” Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller said. “Guys love playing for him, I love playing for him. It’s a big honor for sure and we’re pulling for him.”
The Jack Adams nomination was not the only thing to go right for Cassidy on Wednesday. As the Bruins clawed their way through an ugly, but entertaining Game 7 with the Maple Leafs, Cassidy pushed all the right buttons with adversity staring him right in the face.
Rewind back a few days to Game 6. For the second straight time, the Bruins found themselves in Toronto looking to clinch their first-round series. Looking to give the team a spark, Cassidy benched rookie Danton Heinen in favor of a playoff-tested Tommy Wingels. Neither Wingels nor the Bruins themselves showed much fight in a 3-1 loss that sent the series back to Boston for a decisive Game 7.
With many fans and media members hoping to see Ryan Donato in the lineup, Cassidy stuck with his guns and reinserted Heinen for the do-or-die Game 7. Cassidy’s message was simple: go with the guys that got you there and hope for the best.
“Basically the groups we had envisioned and we trust these groups to get it done,” Cassidy said during his pregame media availability at Warrior Ice Arena on Wednesday. “Those are tough decisions. [Brian] Gionta and [Tommy] Wingels and [Ryan] Donato have all played well, but that’s what we’re going with.”
Inserting Heinen was the first correct button pushed by Cassidy. Heinen logged 11:31 of ice time with three shots, but it was his tying goal in the first period that gave the Bruins a big push.
“Danton Heinen scored a big goal for us early. I thought it was his hardest game on the puck in a long time,” Cassidy said postgame. “He wanted his spot back, and we’ve talked about that with the young guys too – giving them rope, and then pulling them back a little, and we’ve gotten good responses from them.”
“Yeah, I think anytime you see it go in you get a little jump in your step,” Heinen said about his impactful return, “and that was a big goal for me and the team and just lucky enough to get it and keep moving forward here,”
After allowing four goals on Toronto’s first 12 shots, many were calling to bench Tuukka Rask and let backup Anton Khudobin lead the Bruins to victory. Cassidy never gave in, even if the temptation was there. He left Rask in, and it worked, as the B’s starter stopped the final 12 shots he saw.
“Listen, you want your goalie to be at his best; there’s no doubt. That’s stating the obvious,” Cassidy said. “But I think our guys were comfortable with where we were. We knew we could get some by him [Anderson]. We had. We got three by him at the time. He got hot there in the second period, so we stuck with it, but I don’t think there was a doubt that if we got ourselves back tied or in the lead, that Tuukka would be fine down the stretch.”
For those counting at home, Cassidy pushed the correct button for the second time.
Entering the third trailing by a goal, and the quick realization of their season coming to an end, it would have been easy for Cassidy to move some pieces around on his top two lines in search for some sort of spark. With the game that Jake DeBrusk had been playing, and as rough of a night as we’ve seen from Brad Marchand, a swap of the two made perfect sense to most, but not for Cassidy.
Instead, Cassidy stuck with his guns, or as he said, the groups they envisioned. Cassidy was once again rewarded.
Following Torey Krug’s third period equalizer, the Bruins wound up with goals from DeBrusk as the game winner, David Pastrnak as the insurance goal and an empty net goal by Marchand finally sealed the series.
One of the Bruins best attributes this season has been the ability to battle back when trailing in games. Some of that is character while some of that is line chemistry.
The Bruins’ character and chemistry proved dividends in their best 20 minutes of the season. Again, checkmate Cassidy.
“Yeah, it was great. You know, character period. Obviously, we get a big goal on 4-on-4, and that’s all our focus was,” Pastrnak said. “We had 20 minutes to score one goal, and we got that, so obviously then we got a lot of energy out of it.”
Cassidy will need to push more correct buttons against the Tampa Bay Lightning, much like he did in Game 7.