Conference finals coaches -- Michel Therrien
HOW HE GOT THE JOB: Therrien has often referred to his first NHL job, coaching the Montreal Canadiens, as the Harvard of learning about NHL coaching. Even though Therrien coached only 190 regular-season games with the Habs, the lessons learned on and off the ice proved valuable for the Montreal native. Approached by former Pittsburgh GM Craig Patrick about taking over the Penguins' AHL team in Wilkes-Barre before the start of the 2003-04 season, Therrien enjoyed immediate success, taking the team to the Calder Cup final. The next season, the team set a record for points. Then, midway through the 2005-06 season, Therrien got the call to replace Ed Olczyk as coach in Pittsburgh. He has since had his detractors, yet he sits four games from taking the Pens back to their first Stanley Cup finals since 1992.
BIGGEST HURDLE: Just for fun, go to YouTube and call up some of Therrien's rants from his early days as Penguins coach. In one memorable postgame tirade, Therrien suggested the Pens were striving to become the worst defensive club in the NHL and they should consider handing back some of their salary. It was brilliant, but hardly the kind of tough talk that suggests a long tenure as an NHL coach. When Patrick was fired as GM at the end of that first post-lockout season and replaced by Ray Shero, there was speculation Therrien would go, too, given his rough-around-the-edges personality.
"Well, I think when he was outspoken, I think in that scenario, he wasn't wrong," Sidney Crosby said. "I mean, we weren't playing well. We weren't playing the right way. We didn't deserve to get rewarded the way we were playing with our attitude.
"You know, sometimes you can't always be nice about everything and sugarcoat everything. It was what it was, and we knew we had to be better. So, I don't think he's really changed a whole lot, but I think as players we understand what's asked of us now."
Therrien's success with many young players that would make up the bulk of the rebuilding Pens' roster earned him a stay of execution. That non-move turned out to be a seminal moment for the Pens and Therrien as they soared to an 105-point finish in 2006-07. Although they lost in the first round to Ottawa, there was a feeling of excitement when the current season started.
After the team shuddered through the first third of the season, there were again rumblings of a coaching change. But again Therrien righted the ship. He got terrific performances out of Ty Conklin after Marc-Andre Fleury went down with a high-ankle sprain, and Evgeni Malkin, who shone after Crosby went down with his own ankle sprain.
"With the adversity we faced all season long, I remember there were times we got six, seven guys in our lineup from the minors," Therrien said. "So that was adversity for us. Losing your best players, losing your No. 1 goalie, losing some important players in the lineup. So we faced adversity."
WHAT HE'S ACCOMPLISHED Well, what hasn't he? A year ago, Therrien coaxed a brilliant rookie performance out of Jordan Staal when many believed the teenager should've stayed in junior hockey. This season, when Staal's productivity declined, Therrien helped turn Staal into one of the game's best two-way players at age 19. When Crosby went down in January, Therrien met with Malkin and explained that things were going to change, but he wanted Malkin to play his game and not try to do too much. Malkin did just that and finished as a Hart Trophy candidate as league MVP. When Fleury returned, Therrien didn't give him the starting job but forced Fleury to earn it back with his play. Fleury responded and leads the NHL in playoff save percentage. Defensively, Therrien has turned the Penguins into a deceptively strong club that has yielded just 1.89 goals per game in the postseason, the best in the NHL.
As the playoffs rolled on, he's made adjustments, switching up defensive pairings at the start of the second round against New York, a move that limited the Rangers to just 12 goals in five games and just three power-play markers.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: So, what does a guy from Montreal know about the Battle of Pennsylvania? As it turns out, a lot.
"I've been in Pennsylvania for five years now, being part of this organization. There's always been a rivalry," Therrien said. "Even when I was in Wilkes-Barre, the same thing for [Flyers coach] John Stevens, we've been battling together [since] we were in the American League. This year, it's no different. So they got a good team. I believe that we have a good team. We know what we're talking about when we're facing each other because we've been there."
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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