Time to consider a power-play shake-up
BOSTON -- Second-guessing season is officially open in Boston.
It comes with the territory when you get whipped on home ice to start your first conference finals appearance since 1992.
But we give credit to Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, who was the voice of reason in the face of many questions about his squad's game plan and how the group performed in Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Specifically, there were more than a few arched eyebrows when Julien declined to use rookie Tyler Seguin at all on the Bruins' sputtering power play in Game 1. The rookie, playing in his first career playoff game because of an injury to top center Patrice Bergeron, scored a nifty goal late in the first period to cut Tampa's lead to 3-1. He would add an assist on the Bruins' second goal late in the game with the outcome already decided.
But in the second period, Seguin played only two shifts while the Bruins went 0-for-3 on the power play. They would get one more chance with the man advantage in the third period, and Seguin was once again persona non grata. Boston finished the night an unflattering yet entirely predictable 0-for-4 on the power play to bring its postseason total to 2-for-41.
The Lightning scored one power-play goal to win the special-teams battle, a battle that looms as a tipping point in this series.
With the Bruins' power play in the toilet, one would think Julien might have gone a little outside the box and given the kid a chance with the lopsided score and all. After watching Tomas Kaberle whiff once more on the power play Saturday (we're still wondering how that one shot somehow ended up in the corner), it may have been a no-brainer to shake things up in an attempt to awaken the Bruins' special-teams unit.
Although he curtly responded to questions about Seguin's ice time with a "that's a no comment" after the game Saturday night, Julien did expand on his theory Sunday.
"It's a situation here where, you've got to understand, this is a 19-year-old that hasn't played in 11 games," Julien said. "He comes back in and you want to give him some small chunks to bite on and certainly work his way up."
The coach said the other factor was he thought the power play produced a better effort each time out as Game 1 went along.
"I thought our first power play was really not a good one. Our second one got a little better, and we got some shots starting to go through on the other one," Julien said. "Had it not, there's no doubt we would have thrown him in there. But our power play has been good the last couple of games. And just because you struggle on the first couple of ones, you don't explode it again and try something new.
"I think had it not gone well, we would have, and he certainly would have been considered."
Not sure we exactly buy the line of reasoning, but credit Julien for sticking to his game plan.
It's a fine line, no? If you believe in your game plan, you have to be patient enough to let that faith be borne out. If you deviate from that plan, even when it's faltering, is it a signal of uncertainty to the players?
Conversely, part of the measure of a playoff coach's success is in making adjustments, seeing flaws and correcting them on the fly as best and as quickly as possible.
With Bergeron's status unknown for Game 2 on Tuesday night (the forward is recovering from a concussion and skated again Sunday morning), it is likely Seguin will return to the lineup. Will Julien use Seguin then? If the power play continues to struggle, it will be more difficult to keep the No. 2 overall pick from last June's draft from at least getting a sniff.
Or not. Julien will not be browbeat into making changes. His conservative approach is a stark contrast to that of Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher. In a recent interview, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said one of the reasons he hired Boucher was because he wasn't afraid to try things. There will be hiccups along the way, Yzerman said, but that is Boucher's style, plain and simple. You live with them because you believe that, more often than not, what Boucher will come up with will work.
Eight straight playoff wins, including a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round against Pittsburgh, suggests Yzerman's faith in Boucher is well placed. There's no way of knowing this for certain, but we're guessing that if Boucher was coaching the Bruins, he would give Seguin a look on the power play. For whatever that's worth.
Still, it is just one game, and Julien's steady hand has already paid dividends this spring. His Bruins trailed 2-0 in their first-round series against Montreal and then went on an 8-1 roll to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. Had the Bruins not given up three goals in a 1:25 first-period span in Game 1, had the power play not fallen again into the role of farce, none of this would be an issue and questions about approach and game plans might be asked of Boucher.
But that did happen, and now the Bruins face the prospect of going down 2-0 once again against a team that is exponentially better than the Canadiens.
Not that Julien looked like a guy who was all that concerned about what happened Saturday.
"Again, let's take time to realize what happened last night -- 1:25, as everybody knows, there's three goals scored, and they didn't score until they got that power-play goal late in the game, and then an empty-netter," Julien said. "Let's not overanalyze this situation more than looking at your team and what you can do better as a team, and not worry so much about the other team.
"There's absolutely no reason why not to be optimistic," the coach added. "We're this far because we're good enough to be this far, and we just gotta make sure we bring our A game next game."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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