Haggerty: Time for Julien to crack next level

191545.jpg

Haggerty: Time for Julien to crack next level

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

WILMINGTON -- Everybody knows the Bruins, who haven't gotten past the second round of the playoffs since 1992, suffered particular galling postseason defeats in each of the last two years: Losing Game Seven in overtime at home to the Carolina Hurricanes despite being the Eastern Conference's top seed in 2008-09, and becoming only the third NHL team (and fourth professional sports team) in history to blow a 3-0 series lead in 2009-10 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

On Tuesday, at the dawn of the 2010-11 postseason, the B's bore the full brunt of that pressure upon their shoulders.

And nobody is more heavily burdened than coach Claude Julien, who has suffered the slings and arrows of the Boston sports fan base after having the audacity to lose Game Sevens in each of the last two years.

In both instances, his team played less than ideally. But, in both cases, there were reasons for the defeats.

In 2008-09, the Bruins were a young team that was untested in the playoffs. Last year the B's -- who'd gone into the series without the injured Dennis Seidenberg, and then lost Marco Sturm for the Philadelphia series during the first shift of Game One -- saw the level of Marc Savard's play steadily deteriorate due to post-concussion syndrome. Finally, in Game Four, David Krejci suffered a dislocated wrist that sidelined him for the rest of the year.

Things are a whole different shade of Black and Gold now heading into this years playoffs.

The Bruins are robustly healthy. Theyre scoring almost a full goal per game more than they did last season. Theyre defending just as fiercely as ever. It seems everything's in place for a long, extended run through the Eastern Conference.

And that means failure is not an option.

Hence the pressure.

"I think everybody knows what's at stake here," said Julien. "I think we've got a pretty good hockey team that we feel can certainly compete for the Stanley Cup. That hasn't changed either. We've felt we've had that for a few years now.

Things happen along the way. As I've said, there are 29 teams at the end of the year that are disappointed. We don't want to be one of those teams this year. We want to be the team that's celebrating at the end. That's going to be our approach."

What does all that mean?

It means the heat is now officially on Julien and the rest of the Bs coaching staff.

They enter a highly anticipated first-round series series with the Montreal Canadiens holding home-ice advantage. Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas are as good as theyre ever going to be. Young players like Krejci, Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron are entering their primes.

This is the time if ever there was one.

Home ice becomes a big deal when playing a team like the Canadiens, who have a raucous advantage at the ridiculously vibrant Bell Centre a spot where the Bruins havent won a game since February 2010. Theres plenty of respect for the Habs among the players in the Bs dressing room, and Boston knows that Montreal's power play cranked it up to 32 percent success (9-for-28) against them this season.

If it turns into a special-teams fiesta, the Bruins are in trouble. But if the Habs show up at the Garden looking like the shaky-legged cowards who simply gave up the last time they were in Boston, then the series could be over quickly.

If we focus on how we do things then we know were tough to play against, and if we dont then we give them opportunities, said Mark Recchi. Our coaching staff will give us game plans and adjustments, but the bottom line is we feel if we play the way were capable of playing then we can beat anybody on any night.

But you cant talk about it. Youve got to do it on the ice. Guys are ready to go out and start doing it.

But that all goes back Julien, who has to be assuming that failure to at least get into the conference finals will have its consequences.

The coach has been at the helm of six playoff teams during his NHL career, but has never made it past the second round. He didnt even make it to the playoffs in 2007 when he coached the Devils to a 107-point season but was then fired before the playoffs started because general manager Lou Lamoriello didnt feel like the team was ready for a Stanley Cup run.

Those experiences have left Julien with something to prove.

But the time to prove it is now. Because if these Bruins lose before the conference finals, he may be coaching elsewhere at this time next year.

Julien has been roundly criticized for being too conservative and he weathered a public midseason critique by club president Cam Neely, who said teams can't win games by playing to a 0-0 score. That seemed to spark some real urgency in the Northeast Divisions second-longest tenured coach, and an interchange adjustment has helped the forwards create some additional speed going through the neutral zone.

Julien has also been far more willing to scale back ice time and use healthy scratches as motivators for players who arent giving enough in the effort department.

We scored forty more goals this season without really compromising the defensive side of it," said general manager Peter Chiarelli. "We made a significant change going into the year to generate more speed going through the neutral zone. Its called 'interchange,' where the players come a little lower to generate more speed and curl through the neutral zone. That was a significant change.

I think all coaches get advantages as players get better, and I feel that Claude has improved and you see it in a couple of things that have happened this year. With the goals scored and the interchange, I like the job that Claude has done this year."

So Julien has the approval of his general manager prior to the playoffs. But none of that matters now that the postseason is here, not with the city of Boston is thirsting for its first Stanley Cup since 1972.

Julien has always known its not about him. Its about the Bruins organization winning, and hell get his chances with a team thats got more than a fighting chance.

Lets put it this way, Ive tried to do the job every year and this year is no different, said Julien. Putting extra pressure and all that stuff isnt something thats worked well for anybody. Its not all about the coach. You have to expect that your players are professional enough that they know whats at stake, and that they prepare.

As a coach, all you can do is make that preparation as good as you can get it. But at the end of the day, when the puck is dropped, its those guys that are performing.

The players have shown they have their coach's back . . . such as back in December, when rumors were swirling about Julien's future and the B's came out with a solid victory over Atlanta that sparked a 4-0-2 run over the next six games.

Were in this thing together," said Recchi. "Weve been through a lot together and everybody involved wants to do well for the right reasons. We want to do something special, we started a long time ago and we want to keep building that. We have a good group in here. We obviously care about each other. Weve communicated a lot throughout the year.

"Julien's done a great job with this group. We play hard for him, we enjoy him and we want to all be successful.

It sounds pretty simple as Recchi tells it, and it really is at the end of the day. If Julien and Co. can make a long playoff run, then so many of the current questions will disappear.

Its time for both the coach and the players to bust through their barriers. It all starts Thursday night against the Canadiens.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

The Bruins should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. They really shouldn’t. 

Yet they might. Pierre McGuire said on TSN Radio Tuesday that his guess is that Shattenkirk, arguably the best free agent defenseman on the market, will end up in Boston.

It is remarkable how universally against a Shattenkirk megadeal B’s fans have seemingly been. A Twitter poll with over 3,600 votes this month had Bruins fans preferring Boston sign 40-year-old Zdeno Chara to a two-year, $8 million extension than the 28-year-old  Shattenkirk to a seven-year, $45.5 million deal. 

That is obviously the correct conclusion, but considering how hard the false “Chara is old and bad” garbage is pushed in this town, it’s telling that 64 percent would rather he stick around than the team build the defense around Shattenkirk. 

Of course, Shattenkirk is not a bad player just because he’s been overrated in recent seasons. He’s a decent second-pairing defender and strong power play asset who can be penciled in for 40 points a year. The Bruins already have that in Torey Krug, and he makes less than Shattenkirk figures to command. Shattenkirk is also a righty who plays on the right, which is not a need for the Bruins, whereas Krug is a left shot who plays both sides. 

Add in the Bruins’ cap situation due to some bad contracts and they why of Shattenkirk would be a bad signing doesn’t need to be re-hashed. By this point, the explanation’s been given a few times in a few different places. 

So what would the Bruins’ actual case for signing Shattenkirk be? 

TO KEEP IT MOVING 

Last season was encouraging for Bruins fans because it saw them reach the playoffs for the first time in three years while also seeing young talent emerge. Yet they still only made the playoffs by two points, something of which Don Sweeney and Cam Neely are undoubtedly aware. 

So for all the good signs, this could be a fringe playoff team again if more improvements aren’t made, and missing the playoffs for the second time in three years would mark a step back in the eyes of ownership, perhaps putting jobs in danger. It would be a shame if money were spent irresponsibly for the sake of saving jobs, but Shattenkirk would definitely make the Bruins better next season, even if it crippled them financially down the road. 

TO PULL A CHIARELLIAN FREE AGENT SWITCHEROO

With McAvoy set to be a top-pairing player and Brandon Carlo a good second-pairing option, the Bruins do not have a need for a highly paid right-shot defender. That doesn’t mean they don’t have needs elsewhere. 

Last offseason, Peter Chiarelli made the controversial move of trading Taylor Hall, one of the best left wings on the planet. He did it to get Adam Larsson to help build Edmonton’s blue line up, then he went out and signed Milan Lucic in free agency to replace Hall. 

If the Bruins truly have designs on adding Shattenkirk, perhaps they could have something similar in mind: Trade someone like Carlo for either a left-shot defenseman or a left wing, then replace Carlo with Shattenkirk. 

This would still not be financially palatable, however. When the Oilers traded Hall for Larsson, they swapped a player with a $6 million cap hit for a player with a $4.16 million cap hit and replaced the original player (Hall) with a player in Lucic who carried a $6 million cap hit. So essentially they netted one player for an additional $4.16 million. 

Carlo is on his entry level contract, so unless the Bruins traded him for a player on an entry-level deal, they’d be spending a lot of money in any maneuver that involved replacing him with Shattenkirk. 

TO GO ALL-IN ON POST-CLAUDE LIFE

Claude Julien’s detractors lamented his affinity for responsibility. They loved it when Bruce Cassidy was more open to trading chances. 

Well, you like trading chances? Shattenkirk’s your guy. He’s a good skater, a good offensive player and a sub-par defender. You put Krug, Shattenkirk and McAvoy as three of your four top-four defenseman and you’ll be a long way from the days of Chara, Seidenberg and Boychuk, for better or worse. 

BUT, KEEP IN MIND . . . 

They for sure should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. 

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading, while wishing that Gordon Hayward and Paul George were already in Boston, like, yesterday.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Elliotte Freidman gives his 30 thoughts for the week, including the trade value of a first-round pick right now.

*It could that non-unrestricted free agents steal all of the thunder on July 1 with massive contract extensions a la Connor McDavid.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has the Detroit Red Wings taking potential fliers on a number of veteran D-men that are out on the free market.

*With free agency right around the corner, the legendary Stan Fischler details the sad end to Bobby Orr’s career in Boston, where he was lied to about the offer extended to him and ended up playing things out with the Chicago Blackhawks in a way that it shouldn’t have gone. The sight of Orr in a Blackhawks sweater is one of the real all-time NHL oddities out there.

*The NCAA is eying college hockey expansion in NHL markets, including the University of Illinois and Pitt, and, from what I’ve been told, perhaps UNLV and maybe even Vanderbilt. This is a great thing for amateur hockey players and anybody that can’t get enough of the game.  

*Ex-Senators defenseman Marc Methot holds no ill will toward the Sens after being dealt from Vegas to the Dallas Stars following his selection in the expansion draft.

*Josh Ho-Sang shares his wisdom to Islanders prospects as a 21-year-old somebody that’s gone through the ups and downs of being in their shoes.

*As we referenced above, Connor McDavid is closing in on a massive contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers that will probably make him the highest paid player in the NHL.

*For something completely different: My heart goes out to this Roslindale family fighting through a situation with a child who has a life-threatening disorder. They have a Go-Fund-Me page, so please give if you can.