Haggerty: Julien to Habs a stunner, but we'll see if it makes them better

Haggerty: Julien to Habs a stunner, but we'll see if it makes them better

It’s an Original Six twist right out of the Boston-vs.-Montreal playbook: The Habs canning head coach Michel Therrien on Tuesday and hiring Claude Julien just a week after the B’s bench boss was turfed in Boston.

One thing is for certain: The Bruins-Canadiens rivalry, one that’s taken turns over the years alternating between bitter blood feud and one holding the upper hand over the other, is about to get hot again.

Can you imagine the kind of blood-boiling, frothing-at-the-mouth vengeance that the proud, distinguished Julien must be feeling toward the Bruins for him to eschew all the NHL gigs waiting for him this offseason, and instead sign right on with the Canadiens in midseason?

It’s surprising on one level that the B's allowed Julien to take the job in Montreal. But that would have been a shabby move to block a well-respected coach like Julien from moving on, especially after last week’s embarrassing display of firing him during the Patriots' Super Bowl celebration.

Not to mention, it’s about time the Bruins stopped operating out of fear of what might happen negatively when they make hockey decisions.

They should be confident they made the right move after watching the team play an energized, aggressive brand of hockey under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, and needn’t fear Julien bringing his conservative, defensive-minded system to Montreal given that they view it as a relic of the NHL past. Instead the Canadiens should be concerned that they’ve hired someone who's finding it increasingly difficult to thrive in an NHL that’s trending toward speed, youth, skill and an aggressive, high-risk style that's heavy on offense.

The Habs, on the other hand, are delighted at their good fortune welcoming back a French-Canadian coach who already understands the demands of the job after guiding Montreal from 2003-06, and one who certainly wants to stick it to a Bruins team that kicked him to the curb. His Francophone background checks off all the boxes demanded by the fan base and region, and his resume has grown to legendary proportions since first getting fired by the Habs more than 10 years ago.

"Claude Julien is an experienced and well-respected coach with a good knowledge of the Montreal market,” Habs owner Geoff Molson said in a statement. “Claude has been very successful as an NHL coach and he won the Stanley Cup. Today we hired the best available coach, and one of the league's best. I am convinced that he has the capabilities to get our team back on the winning track.”

The one issue Julien will have in Montreal that he did in Boston was getting the best out of young players. People like Alex Galchenyuk, Nathan Beaulieu and Brendan Gallagher are key to the Canadiens' sustained success in the NHL’s salary-cap world. Julien's inability to properly integrate the young players into the Bruins lineup was part of what cost him his job in Boston, and the noticeable uptick from Jimmy Hayes, Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano since his firing is noteworthy.

The simple fact is, Julien never trusted Vatrano, Spooner and Hayes enough defensively to put them together as a forward line, yet they’ve been good and productive in the three games as a skilled third line under Cassidy. Julien also would have never installed a 21-year-old rookie like Peter Cehlarik on the power play immediately upon his arrival from the AHL. Cassidy did that in his first two NHL games, and was rewarded with a pair of assists in Sunday night's shutout win over, ironically, the Canadiens.

Julien instead will have veteran players like Shea Weber, Alexei Emelin, Tomas Plekanec and Carey Price who can help him put his defensive structure in place. Montreal fans should expect things to get conservative and veteran-heavy with a grind-it-out philosophy that appeared to finally wear out the players in Boston after 10 years.

No matter what happens, there will be second-guessers and hot-take artists who will crucify the Bruins if Julien rides into Montreal and rights the Habs ship with a team that’s been in first place nearly all season in the Atlantic Division. The Claude Fan Club will wring their its hands and say that the Bruins never should have fired the best coach they’ve ever had, even as the evidence mounted a head-coaching change was absolutely necessary. Just because someone is a good coach doesn’t make them a good fit for the personnel on a particular team, which is absolutely the situation that developed in Boston over the last couple of seasons.

So bon voyage to Claude Julien, as he steps over the line into enemy territory, and casts a dark, foreboding cloud over his 10 glorious years in Boston.

Above all else, it makes for a great story.

The hatred will be palpable on the ice as the Bruins and Habs suddenly have a ton to play for -- beyond even the standings -- the next time they meet. It’s just a shame they don’t play again over the final few months of this regular season, to see just exactly how that would all play out.

Instead everybody will have to hope that somehow, someway these two teams wind up facing each other in the playoffs where the drama, the high emotions and the cold, cold dish of possible revenge would make for some damned good postseason hockey.

For now, though, Julien has officially severed his ties with the Bruins. And the Black and Gold should feel good about what they saw from their own team in Cassidy's three games headed into the bye week.  

Bruins know they 'have to go all in' vs. Islanders to control playoff fate

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Bruins know they 'have to go all in' vs. Islanders to control playoff fate

BROOKLYN, NY – The Bruins woke up on Saturday morning and found themselves out of the playoff picture for the first time in months by virtue of the one game in hand the New York Islanders have over the Black and Gold.

That makes Saturday night’s tilt against the Isles at the Barclays Center all the more important. A win will put the Bruins back into the lead for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and a loss would further drop them out of the playoff picture. It’s the biggest game of the season for the Bruins made that much grander in scale because Tuukka Rask is suddenly out with a lower body injury, and the Bruins will need a superior effort to snap a four game losing streak that has them teetering on the brink of playoff oblivion.

With all this swirling around, the Bruins know they can seize control of their playoff destiny with a win that will send them spinning off in the right direction. A loss will…well, that’s something the B’s don’t even want to entertain at this point after collapsing down the stretch in each of the last two seasons.

“With where we’re at right now, we can’t have any moral victories. Now it’s about doing the job and bearing down. We have to go all in tonight and have a big game. Hopefully the guys understand how important of a game it is and we have a big night,” said Brad Marchand. “I think we’re all excited. This is when we love to play when the game means so much, and it has a playoff feel. We’re fighting for our lives right now. It’s a great mood in the room, so hopefully we have a big bounce back.”

While the big picture can’t possibly be ignored given what’s happened with the Bruins this week, Bruce Cassidy also cautioned that simply viewing Saturday night as a two-point game was the best technique for success. Otherwise things could become overwhelming and packed with too much pressure when it should be something the Bruins are embracing rather than dreading.

“I hope our guys are creating some positive energy out there. This time of year you just need to have that mindset that it’s one game at a time,” said Cassidy. “You don’t look back, and you stay in the moment. That’s the message that gets conveyed to the group and for the most part they’ve done a good job with that. We just need to play our game and play it well.

“I truly believe they’ll bounce back. They didn’t have their best on Thursday and I think we’ve addressed that game. I believe they’ll take a lot of pride in their game tonight. Your leaders need to lead and your followers need to follow, and that’s a recipe for success for most teams. We’re no different and I expect that to be the case [against the Islanders].”

On the other side of the coin, it will be look out below if the Bruins drop a fifth straight game and continue a downward spiral as the Leafs, Lightning and Islanders are seem to be hitting their late season stride at the same time. 

Khudobin happy to step in for Rask in an 'important game'

Khudobin happy to step in for Rask in an 'important game'

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The Bruins' original plan was for Anton Khudobin to get one out of the four big games with playoff implications this week, so the fact he’s starting Saturday night vs. the Islanders in a do-or-die game is in keeping with that plan. 

But the 30-year-old Khudobin couldn’t have been planning on making the start vs. the Isles after the Bruins lost the first three games this week vs. Toronto, Ottawa and Tampa Bay, and have lost four in a row in regulation overall.

All of that changed on Friday when Tuukka Rask determined he couldn’t play due to a lower body issue. That leaves the Bruins backup goaltender preparing to start in the biggest game of the regular season. 

Coach Bruce Cassidy said there would still have been a discussion about going with Khudobin tonight based on the way things had gone for Rask over the past four games, but it would have been bold going with the backup over a theoretically healthy No. 1 goalie.

“It would have been a conversation to have with [Rask] based on his physical well-being. He’s not used to the workload, but at this time of year that’s just what happens sometimes,” said Cassidy of Rask, who had started three games in four days before tonight’s DNP. “It would have been a conversation. We were considering Anton for a game this week, and it just so happens that it worked out to be [against the Islanders].”

It’s a good thing that Khudobin has won his past four games  and is playing his best hockey of the season. He said he's determined to be at his best despite his last start coming 10 days ago in Calgary.

“We don’t know what’s going on there [with Tuukka], so I’m just taking it day-by-day,” said Khudobin, who has a solid .916 save percentage in his past five appearances for the Black and Gold. “I’m not thinking too far ahead. It’s always great to play. It’s a really important game, and it’s the time of year where every point is really important.

“I’ve played pretty good and the guys have played really well in front of me. We’ve gotten the wins, so that’s the most important thing. When you get the wins, of course, it always feels really good.”

The Bruins showed a lot of faith in Khudobin signing him to a two-year deal on July 1 to be Rask’s backup. For most of this season he struggled badly in that role while going back and forth to Providence. Still, all of that will be forgotten if Khudobin can battle and compete his way to winning against the Islanders and help stabilize a Bruins team that looks headed for another late-season fall amid a four-game losing streak.