Photo credit: Jim Davis/Boston Globe staff
By now, many hockey fans and pundits alike are well aware that a coach’s life span in the National Hockey League is one of the shortest in the four major professional sports. But Claude Julien is one of the rare exceptions.
Julien is currently in his sixth year behind the Bruins bench. During his tenure, the former Canadiens and Devils coach has seen his share of peaks and valleys. The lowest of lows include the 3-0 collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, Game 7 losses to the Habs (in 2008) and Carolina Hurricanes (in 2009) and a disappointing first round exit in 2012 to the Washington Capitals, also in seven games.
The astonishing thing is Julien has also had some close calls. If it wasn’t for Nathan Horton’s heroics in Game 7 of the Habs series two years ago, then for certain he would not have been behind the Bruins bench during the 2011-12 campaign. And if it wasn’t for the Bruins’ triumphant comeback over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7, he would’ve added a 3-1 collapse to his resume and would likely have found the unemployment line a few weeks ago.
Despite all that, Julien has his share of accomplishments, too. His 258 career regular season victories with the Black and Gold ranks him second in team history behind Don Cherry. His 48 postseason wins, meanwhile, are good for first all-time among Bruins coaches. Moreover, he’s guided the B’s to the ultimate prize in 2011 and has his team four wins away from the holy grail again in 2013.
Certainly it goes without saying that Julien has had his share of critics from callers on 98.5 to the talk show hosts like Michael Felger. But it’s a fact, not opinion, that Claude has met those naysayers with his accomplishments.
And he even had a joke up his sleeve for those critics after the Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night.
“I don’t even know that there’s criticism around here. I’ve been here six years. I think I’ve been fired five times,” laughed Julien. “You know, those kind of things are not really important to me. What’s important is the results. As long as people I work for appreciate what we do, that’s what matters.
“At the end of the day winning hockey games for our fans and for the city is what’s important to me. That stuff is really no bother to me.”
Despite the scrutiny throughout his tenure, Julien’s players love playing in his system.
Yes, Julien’s system tends to focus more on defense than offense, but just look at how successful it was during the Eastern Conference Finals. The B’s held the high-powered Penguins offense that was averaging over four goals per game prior to the series, to just two tallies in four games. Additionally, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla were held without a single point, and the Pens’ power play, which was clicking at an astonishing 28 percent in the first two rounds, was also shut down thanks in large part to goaltender Tuukka Rask and a stout blue-line.
Offensively, well the Bruins got the goals when they needed it the most from David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and an unlikely source in Adam McQuaid.
Not bad for a squad that went up against the top team in the East during the regular season.
“I think we played good defensive hockey,” Krejci said. “I think we played exactly what was our game plan, and nobody was cheating. We all played with responsibility and we all take pride in our game. We shut them down. It was a great effort by all four lines the whole series, and we’re pretty happy with going to the final.”
If the Pittsburgh series wasn’t an indication on how the Bruins like playing under Julien’s system, then just take a look at the current roster. Fifteen players from the team that won the Cup two years ago against the Vancouver Canucks will skate during the Cup Final two years later against the Chicago Blackhawks; with the exception of Tim Thomas, Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder, Tomas Kaberle and “Sheriff” Shane Hnidy.
It’s certainly safe to say that Julien’s players, like defenseman Zdeno Chara, also have his back.
“We don’t pay attention to what’s going on outside this locker room,” said the Bruins captain. “We know what we have inside this locker room, and obviously the coaching staff is part of it. We’re all on the same boat.”