BOSTON – I’m not sure what Claude Julien’s musical tastes trend toward, although I’m guess the pregame warm-up mix of rap and heavy metal at the TD Garden might not be the first tunes to pop up on his iPod.
If there’s one song that should be playing everywhere Julien goes, and especially when he’s behind the bench, it’s “My Way.” No coach has taken the blows, faced it all and stood tall in order to do it his way more than Julien.
Tonight and all through Boston’s seven-game Eastern Conference quarterfinal series victory over Montreal, the “Julien Way” paid off. If there’s one starting tenet of the coach’s approach, it’s patience with every single player he suits up for a given game.
Confidence is definitely the second tenet.
After going more than a month in mid-winter without a goal, Nathan Horton was supposed to be a bust that couldn’t shake his Florida Panthers relaxed approach to the game. Chris Kelly was a waste of a second-round pick because he produced almost nothing after his acquisition and was just duplicating the skills players already on Boston’s roster possessed.
Michael Ryder … well, we know where people wanted to see him – in the press box, in Providence or on the unemployment line. After just two games against the Canadiens, many even wanted Vezina Trophy favorite Tim Thomas to take a seat for a game.
The one person who didn’t believe anything that was written, thought or talked about outside of the Boston dressing room – and I have it on good authority that at least the words in print are soaked in by him almost every day – was Claude Julien.
Even within the series and within the game, you can argue over the coach’s maneuvers or lack thereof. But the 2010-11 Bruins have become the first team in franchise history to overcome a 2-0 series deficit, the first team in NHL history to win a seven-game series without scoring a power-play goal and just the third Bruins squad to slay the hated Habs in a Game 7.
The Bruins did it his way. If part of that way was to gloat, he could’ve done a jig across the media room. Instead he just kept things professional and never said “I told you so.”
With maybe their coach as the only person who truly believed in them, Boston’s much-criticized veterans have made their contributions. After a 26-goal regular season, Horton has now scored twice in overtime to save the Bruins’ bacon.
“I thought he had, as we’ve talked about this year, he had a really good start the first month and then he cooled down a little bit. But what I saw from Nathan from the half-point on until the end was that it was a guy who really became a lot more consistent in his game, his preparation was good,” said Julien, who with the exception of a one-period benching and some cuts in power-play time stuck with Horton through thick and thin. “Whether he scored or not, he was battling, he played hard. So I think he’s really grown a lot in the second half.”
Kelly scored big goals in Game 4 and 7, plus did his usual tight-checking job and added a little physicality against the Habs. Although he and Rich Peverley struggled to turn their chances into goals toward the end of the regular season, Julien stuck with the pair of late-season acquisitions. Instead of benching them or breaking them up, he just switched Kelly to wing and Peverley to center. Combined with Ryder, who joined the duo in the regular season’s last week, they combined for 14 points in the seven games.
“So you really want to be a little bit patient before you made that move, but there is no doubt that it was drawn up and there was a possibility that could have happened,” said Julien about separating Kelly and Peverley if things hadn’t clicked. “And right now as I sit here, I’m glad we stayed patient because it’s really paid off for us.”
Thomas, well what can you say about him? After a shaky pair of Game 4 5-hole goals, he turned back into every bit the dominant regular-season goaltender he was this year and won a seven-game series against maybe the league’s brightest young up-and-coming netminder.
For Claude Julien patience has paid off. He lives to see another day. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that had the Bruins failed to advance beyond the first round, Julien would’ve been forced to take his patient philosophy to another venue.
Instead, Julien gets another shot to coach against Philadelphia in a second-round series and Kelly, Horton, Ryder, Peverley and Thomas might as well make up the Bruins’ Mt. Rushmore of clutch play right now.
Anything can happen over the next several weeks. The Bruins might be out of the playoffs before Cinco de Mayo. Julien still might find a pink slip on his office chair. But none of that matters now.
The Bruins are in the second round and Julien has had the last laugh. Like his players, Julien’s scheduled for day off Thursday before getting back to work Friday.
While he’s hanging with his wife and daughter, and maybe doing a little housework, Julien can belt out a tune Frank Sinatra style.
“I planned each charted course. Each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this. I did it my way.”
The Chairman of the Board would be proud.