clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Claude Julien is the Only Man for the Job

Ten days ago, the calls for Claude Julien's job began. The Bruins trailed, 4-1, to the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their first-round series.


Now, the events of the final 11:42 of regulation and overtime may've shut Julien's critics up briefly, but there's still an ever-present collection of stiffs in this region that will want the coach gone no matter how much he achieves.

Hockey's a weird game. Matchups dictate games and series. Bad teams that do a certain few things particularly well can knock off a juggernaut destined to win a championship. Coaches try as they can to exploit or offset these matchups, but it isn't always that easy. Your players are who they are. Systems are what they are. And even the most talented player or well-designed system can fall victim to an opportunistic offensive team or a young group that relies heavily on speed.

The Bruins' first two opponents in these playoffs have presented two very different tests for Julien and his club. The Leafs, up front anyway, are fast. They skate well, they skate quickly and they're on defensemen in an instant. That series, even when the Bruins led, 3-1, was always a matchup that the Leafs could take advantage of -- and they did. The Rangers, however, basically present the Bruins with a carbon copy of themselves. They have some speed, but they're at their best when they're bruising defensemen and outmuscling forwards to create chances.

No one does this better than Julien's club. As a result, the Rangers' scoring chances have been minimal throughout this series. If not for some typical brilliance from Henrik Lundqvist, both Game 1 and Game 3, one-goal Bruins' wins, could've been much worse.

Julien's success as Bruins coach has come largely as a result of reliable defense and truly elite goaltending. It's no coincidence that the Stanley Cup contenders Julien has coached every year since the 2008-09 season took shape when Tim Thomas became a world beater. Tuukka Rask is gradually adopting that same look, and it means promise ahead -- this year and in the future assuming they get him signed this summer. With the Bruins' game so heavily predicated on confidence, a goalie that rarely allows soft goals is essential.

Despite the offensive problems this team has -- and will always have -- under Julien, the work he and his staff have done needs appreciation.

His Bruins' teams have shown an ability to beat every type of team the NHL can offer. All the while, Julien has held true to the defense-first game that made him a candidate for the job in the first place. The occasional offensive droughts this team sees happen because Julien's system is demanding. Skating is the difference-maker, and it's not easy for any group to keep the pace they need throughout a season and in the playoffs. The rub, of course, is that the system, when executed properly, makes the Bruins a dangerous foe for any club in the league.

After Tuesday's Game 3, Rangers maligned coach John Tortorella focused mostly on zone time. The Rangers rarely managed lengthy spells in the Bruins' end. Meanwhile, the Bruins created chance after chance with a relentless forecheck and cycle game that forced Lundqvist to be at his best if the Rangers were going to survive. They nearly escaped with a win because of him, but the Bruins adhered to the same principles that won them a championship. They rolled four lines. All 12 forwards skated. The chances and goals eventually came because they always do when the Bruins do what their coaches tell them to.

Since 2009, the Bruins have won more playoff series than any other NHL team. To this point, there's only been one playoff that lasted more than two rounds. All of that will change when the Bruins close this series out, but Julien's status as the leader of this team is cemented already -- lest they blow another 3-0 lead. At that point, fine, the Julien haters may have a point.

This series should end soon, though, and the Bruins should play for an Eastern Conference championship. Like 2011, the run hasn't been perfect thus far. There's already been a Game 7. The Bruins needed a miracle, essentially, to get through that game, but the way they created the chances that led to the win seems to have, once again, awoken the belief and understanding in the system their coach knows can be successful -- the system that has made the Bruins one of the NHL's best teams for the last five seasons.

There's no way of knowing the Bruins' fate this season until it's over. Even with a 3-0 lead, there are things that have to improve. Even with a win on Thursday night, the Bruins will face new challenges and matchup issues no matter the opponent they draw in the next round.

Two years ago, Julien did what no Bruins coach had done in 39 years. He took the parts given to him by his front office and conjured the understanding necessary to win the most important of hockey games. The results won't always be the same. Sometimes they're going to crash out of the playoffs. Parity and stuff.

But, as long as Julien is in charge, this team has a chance to win a championship. Not many other teams can say the same thing.