MONTREAL — If Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien were the type to rub his former employers’ noses in his current success, he could take a video of tonight’s third period and ship it off to Lou Lamoriello.
Luckily for Julien, he could save on postage with Bob Gainey because unlike the New Jersey Devils’ czar, the Montreal Canadiens’ general manager/head coach had a front-row seat for the clinic the Bruins put on in playing their coach’s system to perfection to close out a 4-2 win over the Habs in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at Bell Centre.
Protecting a 3-2 lead, Boston outshot the Habs just 7-5 — and they wouldn’t have wanted it any other way en route to a 3-0 series lead. The goal was to limit the Habs chances, and you could’ve counted Montreal’s opportunities to tie the game on one finger. The Bruins moved the puck from stick to stick, supported each other, gave each other outlets and, most importantly had each other’s back at the odd times a Habs player got behind the Bruins’ back line.
“We didn’t panic on our breakouts. We didn’t just rim pucks,” Julien said after the game. “They were a lot more aggressive along the boards tonight, but we made some good plays, tape-to-tape passes. We stopped turning pucks over in the neutral zone, started getting pucks in deep, and those little things are so important at this time of year.”
A key cog in the Bruins’ success in the third, defenseman Dennis Wideman added: “I think we did a good job of clogging up the middle and taking away as many scoring chances as we can in the third. We did a good job of slowing them up so they weren’t flying through the neutral zone in the third period and that’s all we can ask for.”
The third period was a far cry from the first, when the Bruins were outshot, 10-7 — including 9-3 for the first 19 or so minutes. But that was somewhat understandable, as the club — despite experience playing playoff games in the raucous environment of the Bell Centre — still had to deal with not being able to “hear yourself think,” as winger Shawn Thornton put it. The second period was a little better, but not much.
Then came the third, and it looked like it must have when the Wright Brothers finally got in the air and stayed. All the months of pounding his concepts into the Bruins’ players heads since he took over as head coach of the Black and Gold paid off in a masterpiece of a period. The Bruins have had solid, 60-minute efforts before. They’ve had near-perfect periods. But none on such a grand stage, in a crucial game. Letting the Habs continue to exploit their overexcitment would’ve spelled doom for the Bruins. Boston did not want to let Montreal off the mat in this one and give the Habs even the slightest bit of hope they could push this series deep — and they didn’t.
The chipping and the checking and the short passes flowed for the final 20 minutes like an exquisite ballet Julien must’ve dreamt up in his head a million times. When there was the slightest chance for a game-sealing empty-net goal by Chuck Kobasew, the veteran winger buried it after one last perfect outlet pass by David Krejci.
It’s a period like tonight’s third that further validates Peter Chiarelli’s decision to hand the reins to Julien and epitomizes why Julien should be among the finalists when the Jack Adams nominees are announced later this week. It’s a concrete example of how the players have “bought in” and turned the franchise around through cohesion and teamwork. It’s been a perfect confluence of personnel and concepts, but there’s a pretty good chance this system would’ve worked elsewhere.
Julien’s not the type of guy to say, ‘I told you so.’ So let me be the one to tell Lamoriello and Gainey, they sure made a mistake when they canned Julien without giving him a fair chance to fully implement his plan. Had they had a little more patience, this system would be there’s — along with the success that comes with it.