Haggerty: Time for Julien to crack next level

Haggerty: Time for Julien to crack next level
April 13, 2011, 6:13 am
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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