Commentary

Are the Bruins being outsmarted?

While the Flyers' Laviolette makes adjustments, Boston's Julien stays the course

Updated: May 12, 2010, 5:33 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

PHILADELPHIA -- It's that time in the NHL season when coaches shouldn't have to explain to players the X's and O's of the organization's on-ice philosophy.

The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers are no different in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Bruins coach Claude Julien and Flyers bench boss Peter Laviolette have taught and explained the respective teams' systems time and again.

Now the onus is on the players to execute the game plan to near perfection to advance toward a Stanley Cup championship.

With that said, is it possible to outcoach and outthink your opponent in the playoffs?

In the early going of this series, the Bruins gained a 3-0 advantage, and it appeared they were on the brink of advancing to the conference finals for the first time in 18 years. Despite the deficit, Laviolette kept saying that he didn't think his team was playing that poorly and that it was only a few tweaks from getting back in this series.

The Flyers bought into their coach's confidence and extended this series, forcing a Game 6 on Wednesday night at Wachovia Center.

After Philadelphia won Game 4, its players kept saying that all the pressure was now on the Bruins. Boston's players laughed at that notion, but when the Flyers shut out the Bruins in Game 5 on Monday night at TD Garden, everyone's mindset had changed.

The Bruins believe it was a wake-up call, and they plan on ending this series in Game 6. The Flyers believe they have momentum heading back into their building and feel as if it's now anyone's series.

"I've got to give the credit to the players because ultimately when you're thrown the lemons, you've got to make lemonade. It's the players who have to go out on the ice and have to perform," Laviolette said after that victory.

At this point, how valuable is a good coach?

Laviolette has won at every level he has coached. He won a Calder Cup with the Providence Bruins in 1999 and had his name etched into Lord Stanley's Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.

Julien won a Memorial Cup championship with the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 1997, but he never has advanced past the second round of the playoffs in his coaching career at the AHL and NHL levels.

Each coach, however, is not focused on past accomplishments. It's about the here and now, and each is doing everything possible to motivate and lead his team to the next round.

Bruins veteran Mark Recchi was a key member of that Cup-winning Hurricanes team under Laviolette in 2006. Recchi is not surprised the current Flyers bench boss has been able to lead his team back into this series.

"He's good. He's composed, and he's calm," Recchi said. "He's very well prepared, and it shows, especially the last couple of games. They made some minor adjustments, and they've done a good job."

Julien I like his coaching style. He's honest, and he has had success coaching. He's won a Stanley Cup. … He's very respectful away from the game. I obviously have a lot of respect for him on an individual basis, as well.

-- Bruins coach Claude Julien, on Flyers coach Peter Laviolette

Laviolette and the Flyers have made adjustments against the Bruins. Philadelphia is shutting off the Bruins' ability to get shots from the point, which had been one of Boston's strengths in the playoffs. On the offensive side, Philadelphia is getting more traffic, shots and tips in front of rookie Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask.

The adjustments the Flyers have made also have given them momentum heading into Game 6.

So how important is coaching in the playoffs?

"Coaching is important, but we've had structure all year," Recchi added. "[Coaches] have to fine-tune things, that's the important part. They have to make little adjustments and make the players aware, and then we have to go out and do it."

Coaches will rely on their captains and team leaders to help get their message across before, during and after games.

"Leaders are leaders, and no matter the situation, they will always take charge of the dressing room," Julien said. "It's the same with us as coaches. We have to be good leaders, too. The other guys have to be on board, too. Everybody, in their own way, has to bring something to the table. You can't rely on half a team in the playoffs."

Julien has done a tremendous job with the Bruins this season. Time and again, Boston faced adversity through injuries, extended losing streaks and goaltending decisions. His players bought into his system and found a way to earn a postseason berth and could advance to the conference finals with one more victory.

He knows exactly what to say and do with his players.

"It's different in every situation," Bruins pugilist Shawn Thornton said. "He reads the situation and reacts the way he should react. Throughout the playoffs, he's done a pretty good job of reacting one way or the other. He's doing a good job, and I think the players, for the most part, have been reacting, too."

After the Flyers completely embarrassed the Bruins in Game 5, Julien didn't sugarcoat the loss. He talked about the team's lack of energy and preparation. He also wants his team to learn from the loss, then forget all about it and focus on Game 6.

"He wants us to adjust when we need to adjust to get better, and he also tries to get us going," said Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron.

Laviolette He's a nice person away from the game. His teams are always very well prepared, and they work hard. They play a structured system, and I think that's why he's had success.

-- Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, on Bruins coach Claude Julien

"He's a great coach," defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "If we have a really bad game, he'll let us know. He doesn't put anybody down. He wants us focused more or less."

Julien and Laviolette are similar in that sense, but they work different tactics to get the most out of their players. Laviolette is a great motivator in times of desperation. Julien is consistent, and his players trust him.

"I know Peter pretty well," Julien said. "We spent a lot of time chatting over the summer at the draft and stuff like that. I like his coaching style. He's honest, and he has had success coaching. He's won a Stanley Cup. How can you say he's not a good coach? It's obviously a hard thing to win, and any time you're a part of that, like he was in Carolina, I thought he did an outstanding job that year bringing his team all the way. I like his coaching, and he's a very humble guy. He's very respectful away from the game. I obviously have a lot of respect for him on an individual basis, as well."

The feeling is mutual.

"I know when you play his teams you really have to be prepared and be prepared to work," Laviolette said. "They are very well structured. He's a nice person away from the game. His teams are always very well prepared, and they work hard. They play a structured system, and I think that's why he's had success."

This series ultimately will be won on the ice. But it starts in the dressing room.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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