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Julien out, Lamoriello in as Devils prepare for playoffs

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Having the New Jersey Devils in
first place in the Atlantic Division with a week to go in the
regular season got coach Claude Julien fired on Monday.

Sound strange?

When you work for general manager Lou Lamoriello, it's all about
winning Stanley Cups.

Feeling that Julien didn't have the team ready to make a Cup run
with the playoffs scheduled to start next week, Lamoriello fired
him on Monday and took over behind the bench for the second
straight year.

"I don't think we're at a point of being ready both mentally
and [physically] to play the way that is necessary going into the
playoffs," Lamoriello said outside an empty Devils locker room at
the Continental Airlines Arena. "I am not saying that is going to
change. But I think there has to be better focus going forward."

The stunning move came less than a day after the Devils beat
Boston for their fourth win in five games. New Jersey's 102 points
is tied for the second most in the Eastern Conference.

Julien, who was informed of his dismissal on Monday morning by
Lamoriello, was not immediately available for comment. He posted a
47-24-8 mark in his first season in New Jersey.

Lamoriello refused to say how long that he has been considering
the move, noting that Julien did nothing off the ice to get fired.

"He certainly understands," Lamoriello said.

Lamoriello, who replaced Larry Robinson as coach on Dec. 19,
2005, would not say whether Julien will remain with the
organization.

A practice scheduled for Monday was called off after Lamoriello
discussed the move with the team.

"Our job is to listen to what has been said and why the
decision was made," Devils captain Patrik Elias said. "Management
said it gives us the best chance to accomplish what we want to
accomplish and that is to win the [Stanley] Cup."

Lamoriello would not say specifically what was wrong with the
team. The Devils, who have struggled scoring all season, have
slumped recently, winning seven of 15 games with forwards
Brian Gionta, John Madden and Elias sidelined by groin injuries.

However, the three have returned to the lineup in the past week,
helping to turn things around.

"You don't always judge by wins and losses as far as where you
are at," said Lamoriello, who built three Stanley Cup winning
teams in New Jersey the previous 11 seasons. "The way we put
ourselves in this organization, you have to look at the big
picture. To say that 102 points today isn't an excellent
accomplishment, it's extremely positive. But I have to look at a
lot of factors."

Julien was handicapped by roster problems because the Devils
have been up against the NHL salary cap all season. Injuries have
forced him to play several minor league players.

"I think everybody takes responsibility, including me,"
Lamoriello said.

Monday's firing isn't the only time Lamoriello made a
late-season coaching move. He fired Robbie Ftorek with eight games
left in the 1999-2000 season and Robinson led the team to its
second Stanley Cup title.

Lamoriello didn't consider the change in 2000 in deciding to
replace Julien, the Devils seventh coach since 2000, which includes
two stints by Robinson.

"You don't think of those things," Lamoriello said. "Nothing
makes it any easier, believe me. The day anything like this becomes
easy, or when it's trading a player or when you have make these
decisions and it becomes easy, that's the day you look for a
different position."

Julien previously coached the Montreal Canadiens from January
2003 until January 2006.