Bruce Cassidy returned to his old stomping grounds and did something that 14 other teams couldn’t do on TD Garden ice.
But first, the Vegas Golden Knights had to survive a ferocious comeback bid from the Boston Bruins.
Through the first 26 minutes and change, Cassidy’s new club had the Bruins on the ropes with a 3-0 cushion on a pair of tallies from Paul Cotter and Jonathan Marchessault’s 10th goal of the year. But with Boston’s perfect home record on the line, Cassidy’s former club persevered — again.
Brad Marchand began the comeback with a doorstep tally off a brilliant feed from Patrice Bergeron with 6:24 left in the second frame.
After a timely penalty kill, David Pastrnak cut Boston’s deficit to 3-2 in the closing seconds of the middle stanza.
With a 5-on-3, the Bruins didn’t waste any time evening things up in the third. They couldn’t convert on the front half of the two-man advantage, yet Taylor Hall found twine for the third-period equalizer shortly after Keegan Holzer exited the penalty box.
At that point, the Bruins had the Golden Knights on the ropes. They had found space in the middle of the ice against Cassidy’s stingy defensive system. But they couldn’t get another puck past Logan Thompson. Vegas’ stud rookie netminder stymied the Bruins with his 40-save outing, with 32 of those stops coming in the final 45 minutes.
The Bruins failed to convert on a 4-on-3 power play attempt during the extra session. Former Bruin Reilly Smith capped off the 4-3 win for his new coach with the lone shootout tally in the fifth round.
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins dropped to 14-0-1 at TD Garden.
Cassidy was ‘choked up’ after the pregame tribute.
Even without Jack Eichel, Cassidy had his new club ready from the get-go.
Cotter and Marchessault gave Vegas a 2-0 lead, capitalizing on a defensive mishap in the slot and a Pastrnak turnover.
This all came before the first TV timeout. The tribute montage for Cassidy followed. The sold-out crowd on Causway St. applauded him for a job well done during his six years in Boston.
Cassidy couldn’t help but smile. Then it was back to business.
“That’s something I’ll get choked up about, probably in about three seconds. I appreciate it. It’s that simple. I appreciate it,” Cassidy said. “I did what I could here to help the team win. And now it’s on to Vegas to help that team win.”
It took a while to move on. But the Golden Knights survived and earned two points to close out their road trip.
In the process, the Bruins managed to nab a point. They haven’t faced many in-game deficits during their first 24 games. Yet, in those rare instances, they managed a positive result.
The Bruins entered rare, but familiar, territory with comeback bid.
Only one team could manage to eke out a win in Boston during the Bruins’ first 15 games at TD Garden.
Aside from the Florida Panthers on Thanksgiving Eve, no NHL squad managed to put away the Bruins when they had the chance.
The Bruins’ first comeback bid of the year came in Ottawa with Marchand, Matt Grzelcyk, and Charlie McAvoy still recovering from their respective off-season surgeries. They endured a 7-5 setback yet nearly overcame a pair of three-goal deficits.
That game in Ottawa proved there’s no quit in the Bruins. Amid the slow start, they leaned on their depth and leadership to get themselves within striking distance.
No matter the circumstance, the Bruins always find a way to make things interesting. They earned a 6-5 win in Pittsburgh amid an arguably worse start and under more dire circumstances after Linus Ullmark reappeared in net following Swayman’s injury during his relief effort.
Ironically, Swayman replaced an injured Ullmark when the Bruins overcame a 2-0 deficit in their Black Friday win over the Hurricanes.
The common thread in these rare but familiar comeback bids for the Bruins? Leadership, teamwork, and depth.
“Depth…every line hems teams down,” said Swayman. “We’re not easy to play against, and everyone knows that. So we’re going to keep doing that for the rest of the year.”
The Bruins don’t want to make a habit out of slow starts. For the most part, they’ve avoided that, but a long stretch of initial lulls could put them into a more extended funk.
Eventually, the Bruins will encounter a rough stretch of consecutive losses. Yet, they always believe they have a fighting chance, just as they did on Monday following a needed second-period tally from Marchand.
“Once we got that first goal, I think everyone believed on the bench that we would tie it up,” Pastrnak said. “We had the fans behind us. It was a great fight back… but we couldn’t get it done earlier [in overtime] and the shootout, and we couldn’t bury those chances. A tough one to swallow, but a great fight back from our whole group, and it’s a good point.”
The Bruins will get another chance at the Golden Knights on Sunday. Perhaps they’ll see Cassidy and company a few more times after that.
Are these teams primed for a seven-game spring classic?
Barring an epic and catastrophic collapse, the Bruins and Golden Knights will likely be among the first teams to secure their playoff spots. If everything falls into place, these upper-echelon teams could reconvene for a potentially thrilling matchup in the Stanley Cup Final.
Monday’s matchup had that playoff-like feel. Both teams capitalized on miscues. Both adjusted accordingly to the ebbs and flows of a back-and-forth contest. And neither team provided much breathing room in the checking game in front of an energetic Bruins crowd.
“Our building is electric all the time,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said. “Our fans are awesome. It did at moments [feel like playoff hockey].”
Of course, it’s a little early to envision these two teams meeting in June. Both teams will encounter tweaks within their roster between now and the trade deadline. But Montgomery and Cassidy expect their squads to stay among the NHL elite barring injuries or other quirky developments.
But hey, one can dream, right?
“I would like to be back here in the spring. Wouldn’t that be nice, eh?” Cassidy said. “Two good hockey teams that are trending that way. A lot is going to happen between now and then, I’m sure.”
Get the latest Boston sports news
Receive updates on your favorite Boston teams, straight from our newsroom to your inbox.