BOSTON — Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien was at it again tonight. When his team needed a jolt offensively, he switched up the lines. When his team needed a breather after an icing, he called a timeout to save the day.
It was all in a night’s work for the Jack Adams Trophy finalist, who has seemingly pushed the right buttons throughout this incredible Boston Bruins season that now features the Eastern Conference’s top seed sitting ahead 1-0 in its best-of-seven conference semifinal with Carolina after a 4-1 win at TD Banknorth Garden.
For the most part this season, Julien has kept the centers and right wingers together and moved around the left wingers. And every time he makes a change, goal production follows. Tonight he went back to the alignment that worked best when the Bruins were building their insurmountable conference lead in December and January, in particular with Milan Lucic joining Marc Savard and Phil Kessel. That combination paid instant dividends early in the second period, right after the realignment took place, with Boston’s go-ahead goal 7:21 into the middle period.
“I guess you want me to say it’s a skillful decision, but it’s probably a little bit of luck too I think,” said Savard with a chuckle. “But he’s done that all year. And he seems to pull the right numbers out of the hat a lot of times and tonight was a great example of that. Maybe that’s why he’s up for coach of the year? There’s a lot of reasons and that’s probably one of them.”
Julien called the timeout with 5:42 elapsed in the third period with the Bruins protecting just a 3-1 lead. The team had been scrambling in its own zone and then iced the puck.
“I don’t know why. It’s like a wall formed at the blue line and we weren’t able to get the puck out,” said defenseman Aaron Ward. “But it as a smart play by Claude to get the timeout.”
So is it moves like that that make Julien a coach-of-the-year candidate?
“You tell me,” responded Ward.
Ok, I’ll tell you. These little in-game things definitely contribute to the Bruins’ overall success and build up Juliens’ resumé as one of the best bench bosses in the league. But there’s a whole lot more that not only earned Julien a trip to Las Vegas for the NHL Awards ceremony but also should cause his name to be engraved in that Adams Trophy just before they hand it out.
“He’s done great job with us this year and last year, building this team and taking us in the right direction. I think the key thing is all the players have been on board with what he’s trying to preach,” said Lucic. “We trust in his system and we trust in what he’s telling these last two years and I think that’s why we’ve had success.”
The Bruins learn and execute the system to the best of their abilities on the ice. But Julien obviously has them sticking to the plan off the ice as well. Ever hear a Bruins player disparage an opponent, regardless of record or the score of a game? Ever hear a Bruins player get ahead of himself and talk about a future game other than the next one? After a three-goal victory over Carolina, the Bruins players were still throwing complements the ‘Canes’ way — forcing themselves to believe this opponent belongs on the same rink as them so that they never lose their edge. Even when asked about their coach, every Bruins player seems to give the same answer, similiar to what Lucic said. The team believes in the system, they believe in each other, and that’s their story and they’re sticking to it.
Julien’s a humble man, so I didn’t even both asking him about the honor of being an Adams finalist. He would undoubtedly throw all the credit to the organization for giving him a chance and to the players and his staff for making him look good. And there’s some truth to that. A coach’s influence only goes so far. But is there a secret to making some 20 to 25 guys all pull in the same direction, even when times are tough or the task at hand looks easy?
“I’ve always said coaching, in order to get the players to buy in, you’ve got to be a good salesman. And you have to show them why we need to play a certain way and what it’s going to be bring to us,” Julien said. “And basically, you’ve got to give credit to those guys inside the room too because they’ve got to choose whether they believe it or not.
“We’ve got a good group of guys here. A lot of that starts from your veterans and your leaders in the room. And if they’re in, then everybody else kind of follows suit. I think through the course of this year and even last year, guys saw what it did for us whether we were a depleted team or whether we were a healthy team. They believe in it right now. It’s been great.”
A salesman, huh? Does that mean the Bruins players would buy a Snuggie from this guy? Funky blanket-sweaters aside, this guy can coach. The Bruins know it and now the league’s broadcasters have shown they’re aware of it too by voting Julien into their top three. What other moves he has in store the rest of this series and playoff run, we’ll just have to wait and see.