BOSTON Claude Julien might be the perfect example of perception outweighing reality within the world of Boston sports.
The perception is that Julien is slow to change, conservative by nature, and unwilling to be bold when the situation screams for it.
There are moments, of course, when Julien has made mistakes, just as his players have during their 18-game run through the playoffs a journey thats ended with the first Stanley Cup Final berth of his coaching career.
The power play is a living, breathing black hole on the team and kills momentum with the cold-hearted precision of an assassin. An 8.2 percent success rate through the playoffs will become a fatal flaw against the Vancouver Canucks, and could eventually cost the Bruins a member or two of the coaching staff when all things are reviewed after the Finals have concluded.
Contrary to popular belief, however, there have been more good moves than bad in Julien's tenure.
There have been adjustments and alterations made at the perfect times. For instance, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have been the best lockdown defense pairing in the entire NHL during the playoffs, and it was a staff decision to place them together when things started getting dark in the Montreal series. The Bruins are 12-4 since that point, and Seidenberg is playing the best hockey of his NHL career with Chara by his side.
Also, the Bruins found themselves in a seven-game dogfight in the Eastern Conference Finals with the Lightning and their coach, Guy Boucher, whose 1-3-1 trap was lionized as an innovative system that confounded the rest of the NHL. In the end, though, it was Boucher who blinked in Game 7 and slid back into his comfortable, predictable motions rather than become bold and daring at the moment of truth. The Bruins had broken through Bouchers trap during the series -- their problem was an aggressive two-man forecheck that pressured the Boston defensemen -- but Boucher slid back into the passive trip for the entirety of Game 7. And it was Julien who switched forwards up and down his lines, utilized Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and Patrice Bergeron to take key face-offs throughout a game that dictated their hockey fate.
Julien has also made an excellent adjustment with Mark Recchi as the playoff games have piled up on the 43-year-old, and hes begun alternating shifts between Recchi and Peverley on the BergeronBrad Marchand line. Its a move that reaped the most benefits out of both Recchi and Peverley, while allowing all the forwards to keep their chemistry intact.
Its a double-edged sword when you hear all the water-cooler talk about this and that line combination, we should do this and that, said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. Well, often times, the momentum, the capital, that youve accumulated on a certain line, you can throw it all away by making a certain change too.
I understand that you dont always have to stick with the same lines . . . But its a fine line and I thought Claude did a good job.
Most fitting of all, it was the steady plan employed by Julien and his players that busted through the 1-3-1 zone on the game-winning goal in the third period of Game Seven. Instead of rimming the puck around, as theyd done throughout the series, Andrew Ference lulled Tampa Bay into anticipating a chip attempt into the corner. Instead he teamed with Krejci to enter the offensive zone with puck possession and speed, and the rest was history once Nathan Horton stormed toward the net and created another game-winning goal.
The Horton goal was preparation, inspiration and execution all wrapped into one beautiful package, and thats all about coaching players to be ready for those moments and veterans following through on them.
This playoff has been about poise. This is the message the staff has been delivering about poise, confidence and composure, said Chiarelli. And theyve stuck with that, from up above.
As far as the game plan itself: we had success against their neutral-zone system. I think its fitting that they way we scored the Game 7 goal was to slice through the way we did. Right through that 1-3-1. What I saw the last two games -- talking about game plans and adapting -- is that they changed how they rimmed it. They stopped rimming it. They made a lot of adjustments to address that one-three-one last night. And ultimately it resulted in a goal to win the series.
A key adjustment on the fly that won the Bruins a key playoff game to catapult them into the Stanley Cup Final?
Certainly sounds like some pretty smart coaching to me.