Coach Julien has Bruins halfway to Cup
BOSTON -- Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien has a bit of a Midas touch right now.
If what he touches doesn't turn to gold, then it's certainly win. And lopsided wins at that.
With his team trailing 2-0 in the Stanley Cup finals heading into Game 3, Julien inserted tough guy Shawn Thornton and benched rookie Tyler Seguin. The Bruins went on to throttle the Vancouver Canucks 8-1. Then, without top-six forward Nathan Horton, who is out for the rest of the playoffs with a concussion from Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome's hit, Julien moved Rich Peverley into Horton's spot for Game 4.
All Peverley did was score the first and fourth goals in a 4-0 victory Wednesday night that evened this Stanley Cup finals series at two games apiece. But "even" is hardly something you would call this series after the Bruins ran roughshod over the NHL's best regular-season team the past two games.
The Bruins outscored the Canucks 12-1. They chased Vezina Trophy nominee Roberto Luongo, who allowed four goals on 20 shots in Wednesday's loss. They mauled the speedy Canucks at every turn. Even Boston netminder Tim Thomas got into the act; he hacked Alex Burrows in the back of the leg late in Game 4 after Burrows had tried to dislodge the goalie's stick and then pounced on him during one of a handful of melees in the third period.
"We were up 4-0, the game was getting down toward the end, so I thought I'd give him a little love tap and let him know, I know what you're doing, but I'm not going to let you do it forever," Thomas said. "So that's all that was. It was a typical battle."
The Bruins have denied the offensively talented Canucks time and space, and have neutered a power play that was positively dominant in the Western Conference finals. Julien may not care about Midas and his gold, but he has his team rolling toward their first silver -- as in Stanley Cup silver -- since 1972.
"I think he's made the adjustments. He's probably made more forward-line adjustments than I've seen all year," GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com after Wednesday's win. "I've often said this, but it's a delicate thing, keeping on changing the lines. You build up this amount of goodwill in the line and it's tough if you're just going to keep changing. You've got to weather it a bit, but he's also able to see the guys that are going well and moving them up and moving them down and he does a good job at it."
This is not an easy hockey market. The big ones rarely are, but it's especially difficult when you haven't won a Cup in a generation and you choked up a 3-0 series lead and lost against Philadelphia the previous season. All that baggage makes for a powerful number of armchair coaches and GMs, and Julien has had more than his fair share of critics.
"It doesn't bother him, but we're a solid group here," Chiarelli said. "We talk about things. I have his back, he's got our backs, so when we make these decisions, ultimately it's him that's making the decision as far as the lineup, but we talk about it. He doesn't just do it without talking to people and having reasons behind doing it."
Take the Thornton decision.
On the surface, the Game 3 switch didn't make much sense. The Bruins scored just two goals combined in Games 1 and 2, so taking the talented Seguin out for the fourth-line winger Thornton seemed like a negative sum move. But Thornton was terrific with linemates Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell, and the trio were a big part of the big Game 3 win.
Seguin was back in because of the Horton injury and played just 7:48 (obviously the right amount given the outcome) and Julien continues to take care not to overexpose the second overall pick in from last year's draft. Julien rolled a few wingers through Horton's spot with Milan Lucic and David Krejci, including Seguin at least once; but it was Peverley who stuck for the most part and he rewarded Julien with his best playoff performance.
As they did in the first three games, the Bruins looked sluggish for parts of the first period; but thanks to nice passes from Zdeno Chara and Krejci, Peverley snuck in alone and shot the puck between Luongo's pads to give the Bruins their first first-period goal of the series.
"We had different looks. We saw Ryder go up there a few times as well when Rich was killing penalties," Julien said. "I said I'd use different players at that position. Pev's got good speed. Their line forechecked pretty well with Lucic on one side. We thought we'd keep that going. He still has pretty decent hands. We thought we would start with that."
Both coaches have been forced to adjust on the fly through various circumstances in this series.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault had to deal with the loss of top-two defenseman Dan Hamhuis early in Game 1 and then the suspension of Rome (for the Horton hit) for the balance of the playoffs.
While he mixed and matched defense pairings in Game 4, it's clear the Canucks are not the same team that rolled through San Jose in five games in the West finals. Along with their power-play woes, the Canucks have been consistently beaten in puck battles, especially throughout the crucial second period during which the Bruins scored twice in a span of 2 minutes, 18 seconds to take control of the game.
The funny thing is, if you had to guess which coach might be favored to win the coaching battle in the Cup finals, it would have been Vigneault, who is a Jack Adams Award finalist and whose team ran away with the Presidents' Trophy during the regular season. In Boston, there have been plenty of questions about Julien's ability to coach this Bruins team to the pinnacle. Those questions seem more than a little silly now with the Bruins two wins away from a championship.
"He's a really good coach. He doesn't get enough credit here," Chiarelli said.
Julien insisted he doesn't let any of that bother him.
"No, because honestly I don't hear it. I really don't," he said. "I stay away from that stuff. I need to come to the rink with a clear head. I discuss all the stuff that's done. It's not just about me. It's a coaching staff, management and stuff like that. ... The final decision always goes to the coach, but it's not like it's all about me. So those kinds of things don't really bother me because I don't really hear it and I don't know about it, unless you guys remind me."
If he keeps coaching like he has the past week or so, there won't be much need to remind Julien about anything other than when to show up for the Stanley Cup parade.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.