Haggerty: Time for Julien to crack next level

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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

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

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Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.