Julien motivated to bring another Cup to Boston

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Julien motivated to bring another Cup to Boston

BOSTON Its something of a no-brainer for the Bruins to hand Claude Julien a multi-year contract extension heading into the final year of his current deal with the Bruins.

The longtime coach has achieved everything during a consistently excellent five years with the Bruins, leading them on their steady incline prior to last years playoffs.

Julien has won a Stanley Cup, hes won a Jack Adams Award, he led the Bruins to a No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference three years ago, and hes accumulated the most playoff wins of any coach in Bruins history.

Hes certainly the best Bruins coach of the last 20 years and arguably the best Bs bench boss since the bombastic Don Cherry during the 1970s era of the Big Bad Bruins.

The teams of the last five years have been tough, intimidating bruisers out on the ice capable of pushing around the biggest, strongest opponents. But theyve also traditionally exhibited great discipline within their offensive and defensive structure.

The Bruins dont routinely beat themselves with mindless penalties and have nearly always toed the line for their coach. They are traditionally among the NHLs top 10 teams in goals-against average, and they have finished in the NHLs top five in scoring in two of the last three years.

Add all of those accomplishments to a coaching staff thats also developed young players like Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid and Tuukka Rask over the five years, and it makes a pretty good resume.

It paints the picture of a hockey coach running a highly successful NHL program, and one thats willing to change when things need to be adjusted.

"I think you evolve every year that you coach," Julien said. "Im one of those guys that always said that the minute you feel that you know it all, is when you got to retire. Most of the guys that know it all are retired, right? But I keep trying to improve every year. Whether its through making changes and whether its something you guys see or whether its things I do in the dressing room or preparation or whatever. Youre always trying to improve and changes things . . . keep them fresh.

Julien can be tight with the controls, and particularly about his preferences with his hockey team, but the players have always had his back. With his consistent, prepared, open-minded coaching, general manager Peter Chiarelli ultimately trusts in his head coach.

"As a manager I know when I want to add a player to our mix. I know when I have complete confidence in Claude and his staff and that players will become better," Chiarelli said. "It helps me as a manager: you can look at the progression of players that weve brought into this lineup and has made this team better. Its a testament to Claude and his staff, so that makes my job a lot easier.

"Over Juliens tenure here hes shown the ability to adapt. He has a very, very disciplined team, and thats again a testament to his coaching. Yet at the same time his team is a very tough team, and thats a very difficult balance to maintain. Hes been able to do that with success. Technically hes one of the best if not the best coaches in the league."

So it should have been automatic to give the hard-working Julien a contract that will keep him in Boston until at least 2014-15. The new deal added to the five years already under Juliens belt give him the kind of NHL coaching job security that few people other than Nashvilles Barry Trotz and Buffalos Lindy Ruff truly enjoy in this day and age.

Those are my role models, said Julien, as Ruffs enters his 15th season with the Sabres and Trotz has been the only head coach in the 13-year history of the Predators. I love the organization, love the city and I think my family's extremely happy here. I couldnt ask for a better situation for myself personally.

The one thing that I said when I first came here was my goal was to try and win a Stanley Cup here in Boston. Weve accomplished that. Now my goal is to win another Cup for this Boston franchise. I remain hungry. I remain committed and dedicated to understanding that the expectations here in Boston are always very high. I love that kind of standard because thats what makes you a better coach. Thats what makes you a better team.

Julien is already looking at being one of the most accomplished coaches in Bruins history simply by studying the career totals and success in Boston during his five years in the city.

But winning another Stanley Cup and squeezing more dominant team success out of a solid nucleus might just catapult Julien into the best ever conversation that hed be far too modest to start himself.

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading while feeling like Warren Beatty took the sneaky way out by handing that wrong Academy Award card to Faye Dunaway last night. Clearly he knew something was amiss and he let her step into it. Kind of a weasel move if you asked me.

-- An interesting letter from FOH (Friend of Haggs) James Mirtle about the pay wall involving The Athletic sports website in Toronto.

-- Dean Lombardi and the Los Angeles Kings dealing for Ben Bishop is about more than just an insurance policy for Jonathan Quick.

-- FOH Mike Halford has the Minnesota Wild going for it with their trade for Martin Hanzal, but also keeping him from the other teams in the West.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Penguins are in great shape after winning the Cup last spring, and it’s clear they’re in good hands after Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle opted not to sell the franchise.

-- Kyle Quincey is being held out of the lineup in New Jersey because of pending trades, and the wonder is who else in New Jersey might be getting dealt.

-- Gabriel Landeskog and his Colorado Avalanche teammates know the trade deadline is coming. It would certainly be weird if they didn’t.

-- The San Jose Sharks feel fortunate for the timing of their bye week as it was clear that they needed a break.

-- For something completely different: Gronk was busy doing Gronk things at the Daytona 500 over the weekend.