On a snow-filled eve on Causeway Street, the Bruins showed up to work Thursday with a new coach behind their bench, a rekindled scoring touch, and perhaps a flicker of hope they can save themselves from being plowed out of the Stanley Cup playoff picture.
Paced by first-period goals by David Backes, Patrice Bergeron (four points on the night), and David Pastrnak (two goals), the Bruins rubbed out Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks, 6-3, before a crowd of 9,943 brave souls who made the snowflaked pilgrimage to TD Garden amid the season’s first blizzard.
After watching Thornton nail in a 1-1 equalizer midway through the first period, the Bruins collected four of the next five goals for a 5-2 lead after 40 minutes and drifted to their first win under Bruce Cassidy, who on Tuesday morning took over the Boston bench after longtime boss Claude Julien was dismissed.
“I liked our start, in terms of scoring first,” said Cassidy, back in command of an NHL bench for the first time in nearly 13 years. “I liked the fact we got pucks to the dirty areas and we were willing to go there. I liked our resiliency when we got scored on . . . and I liked we re-established some urgency in this building.”
The win snapped a two-game losing streak, one that cost Julien his decade-long stand in Boston, and it once again squared the Bruins’ record at home (13-13-0).
Bergeron added three assists to his first-period goal, two of those helpers coming on feeds that Pastrnak drove in for power-play strikes. A revitalized Backes (seven shots on net), working right wing on the Bergeron-Brad Marchand line, better resembled what the front office saw in him when it decided to hand him $30 million to sign here last July. And even the fourth line chipped in, with Tim Schaller potting the 4-2 lead by staking out the low slot and knocking home a loose puck off a Riley Nash shot.
All in all, it was a looser, lighter, sometimes unkempt product than the one orchestrated for a decade by the more defense-demanding Julien. Cassidy, a freewheeling defenseman in his youth, preaches a more uptempo, creative, opportunistic approach, and for first-night returns, it paid off.
“We were loose at times, there’s no doubt,” said Cassidy, who last coached an NHL bench in Washington in the 2003-04 season. “Late in the game, we had some [defensemen] active . . . time and score situations. But when you are trying to instill certain things, you’ve got to live with some of that, then we’ll just dial it back. We are going to err hopefully on the side of aggression, playing on our toes early on here, and then dial it back in.
“The day will come when we pay the price for that aggression, and we’ll see from there if we find that happy medium. Tonight it worked out for us. Some nights it’s going to bite you and we’ll have to find that balance.”
The three-goal outburst in the first gave the Bruins a 3-1 lead into the first intermission, one of their best early cushions of the season.
Backes led the parade only 52 seconds into the Cassidy era, snapping home a one-timer off Torey Krug’s feed from the right side. The former Blues star had gone 12 games without a goal. Likewise Schaller had gone 12 games without a goal.
Thornton knotted it, 1-1, at 7:51 when he cashed in a turnover off of Brandon Carlo’s attempt to move the puck out of Boston’s end. It was only the fourth goal this season by Jumbo Joe. His other three were all into an empty net.
Carlo helped to regain the lead when he wristed in a long shot from near the blue line. Backes (1-2—3 for the night) made an initial tip and an alert Bergeron, camped toward the left post, made the easy pot for his 14th of the season.
Finally, soon after the Sharks were called for having too many men on the ice, Pastrnak ripped home a one-time slapper from the left wing circle, set up by Bergeron from the right side. It was Pastrnak’s 23rd this season.
The good times kept rolling in the second, despite the fact the Sharks pulled to within a goal, 3-2, when Justin Braun connected only 1:08 into the period.
But the Bruins struck back with a pair of goals late in the period, with Schaller mashing in the 4-2 lead at 13:0.
With but 49 seconds remaining in the second, Pastrnak potted his second, cashing in from the left wing circle after some precision, no-look passing on the power play. Marchand fed to Bergeron and Bergeron fed to the sharpshooting Pastrnak, who had open acres of net to fire home his 24th for the three-goal lead.
Marchand added an empty-netter for the sixth Boston goal, giving the L’il Ball o’Hate seven goals in the last six games and squaring him with Pastrnak for the team lead in goals.
“A great step in the right direction,” said Backes. “It’s one win, two points in the standings. We need to do it again on Saturday.”
And many for days after that, with only 26 games remaining the regular season, and playoff chances slim.