Claude Julien's calm approach pays off
BOSTON -- After the Boston Bruins fell behind 2-0 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Montreal Canadiens, coach Claude Julien told his team, as he had all season, to relax. Despite the fact the Bruins would be playing Games 3 and 4 in Montreal at the Bell Centre, where they had failed to win all season, Julien said he told them he believed in them, to stay calm and play their game.
Then he turned the floor over to veteran Mark Recchi, who had been in the exact same situation with the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and helped them pull out of a 2-0 series deficit to win the series in six games and eventually the Stanley Cup. Other veterans would address the team as well, and the Bruins went into the Bell Centre, probably the loudest and most imposing rink, to play in for a visiting team, and won two in a row to even the series.
He let the guys kind of find their path and the older guys take control, but when he had to step in and take control of things, he did and he did it at the right times.” --Brad Marchand on Bruins coach Claude Julien
The Bruins would go on to take two of the next three games, winning Games 5 and 7 in overtime, then swept the Philadelphia Flyers to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1992.
As players and management pointed out following the sweep of the Flyers, the Bruins are four wins away from a chance at the Stanley Cup thanks in large part to the guidance and calming influence that Julien displayed after Game 2 against Montreal. This from a coach whose style and ability has been questioned by critics throughout the season.
"We talked after the second game and he reiterated how big the third game was, and if we took that, it could just be a completely different series," said Brad Marchand, who leads all rookies in postseason goals with five and points with 11. "He wasn't panicking and he seemed to have the confidence that we could come back and win. It worked, and he was right.
"Then before the seventh game he was the same way. He said, 'Just stay calm, guys, and play your game.' Seeing how relaxed he was. I think it relaxed the team. I know for me, a new guy to the playoffs, it made me more relaxed than I ever thought I'd be before a seventh game, and it helped."
According to Marchand, Julien has approached his team the same way all season, allowing the players to grow. with the veterans leading and Julien chipping in when needed.
"At the start of the year, everyone wanted to be united as a team and the guys kind of carried each other along through the season with him guiding us in the right direction," Marchand said. "He did a great job of that. He let the guys kind of find their path and the older guys take control, but when he had to step in and take control of things, he did and he did it at the right times. I think that really allowed us to grow as a team. We have such a close team this year and I think that's why. He let us grow and he led us in the right direction. It's really showing right now."
Winger Milan Lucic, who had his first two goals of the playoffs in Game 4 against the Flyers after going 20 games (regular season and playoffs) since scoring his 30th goal of the season, also credited Julien for settling the team down and helping them overcome the 2-0 series deficit to Montreal.
"It almost seemed like those first two games against Montreal we came out real tense," Lucic recalled. "[Julien] said just relax, go out there and play our game, play with poise and play with confidence. After we were able to take a step back and start playing with confidence, having a positive attitude, which I think has been a big thing for us.
"Claude has been really good at keeping that attitude in the dressing room there, that positive attitude. We're a determined hockey club right now, we're playing real sharp. We want to continue playing the way we are."
Julien's calming guidance has not gone unnoticed by his bosses either. According to general manager Peter Chiarelli, he, Julien and the rest of the team brass met before the playoffs and agreed Julien's calm approach should be used in the playoffs.
"What Claude and the rest of us decided going into the playoffs was we had to have poise, we had to have confidence, and we had to make sure that was stressed at all times," Chiarelli said. "And so that was a theme we were going to go into it with. And I think it shone brightly after those two games against Montreal, the first two games, because we were in a hole.
"Whenever I think about lack of poise or panic, I look at our defensive zone, and I see how we break out, I see how we're covering. As we progressed in that series, we got better and better, we were catching. Teams generally take away the wall on a breakout, and that center pass is a tough pass to make. We were getting better at it, and in this series we were getting better at it."
One of the knocks on Julien throughout his coaching career has been that he is too defensive-minded or stubborn and refuses to change his system or adapt. But this season, and specifically in the playoffs, Julien has proved his critics wrong. He has maintained the defensive-minded foundation of his system, but has opened it up when necessary and adapted game by game and even during games.
"You work through adversity, and I think Claude was very good at instilling that," Chiarelli said. "He also made a lot of switches. He made a lot of switches on the lines, using the two centers a lot, and that's something that's very important on the faceoffs. He made some other changes defensively, we were able to juggle the defensemen when [Adam] McQuaid got injured. So I've liked the job that he's done. The biggest thing is his ability to calm the guys down and yet maintain their intensity."
Team president Cam Neely, who during some rough patches earlier in the season did not let the coaching staff off the hook, is now full of praise for the job Julien and his staff did after Game 2 of the Montreal series.
"I think the coaching staff did a good job of settling everybody down," Neely said, looking back at Game 3 of the Montreal series. "I know everyone was excited about the playoffs starting; the coaching staff did a really good job of settling everybody down. I think that when we play the way we are capable of playing, we have good results. I have said that for a long time."
Against a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning, whom the Bruins will face in the Eastern Conference finals, things can change in a hurry. The Lightning use a unique system that allows a quick counterattack while maintaining a defensive safety net. But Chiarelli said he believes Julien's willingness to adapt and work within each game will help against the Lightning.
"They approach their game in a very complex fashion," Chiarelli said of the Lightning. "They do this 1-3-1, but they change it from line to line, from matchup to matchup. So it's going to be a series of tactics, I think, and ability to respond. It's not just the pure counter. We tend to have a bit of a trap in our neutral zone too, so there might be some games that might be a little slow, and then there might be some games that are opened up.
"It's [Julien's] ability to respond, and he's shown a propensity to do that, and I think that will be an asset to us."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.