Julien stays the course . . . and so do the B's

191545.jpg

Julien stays the course . . . and so do the B's

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Dennis Seidenberg wasnt naming names, but the veteran defenseman has seen plenty of hockey coaches get rattled right before his eyes in his seven-plus seasons in the NHL.

The game situation speeds up, panic sets in, and the harried coach starts relying too heavily on a handful of players he trusts while burning out his team when things go awry around him.

That kind of unhinged phenomenon has an unavoidably negative effect on the players, and starts to tighten everybody up as things spin out of control. At the moment of truth in a playoff game, its a team's worst nightmare. And it can be a coaching staff killer.

When a coach is rattled, he makes decisions and overplays guys because of panic; he wants to put his best players out there, said Seidenberg. From there, extraordinary things start to happen and from there on it just kind of snowballs.

Some might have expected to see Claude Julien get rattled in the first round of the Bruins' playoff run this year. His job was presumed to on the line; it was fully expected that he (and perhaps general Peter Chiarelli) would be dismissed if the team had an early playoff ouster.

Yet he never panicked, not even after the Bruins lost the first two games of the series -- at home, no less -- and headed to Montreal facing elimination.

Thats why the Bs have lived to fight many other days since then.

Im sure people thought if we didnt make it past the first round then something was going to happen with the coaching staff, but winning the last two rounds has made everyone in the organization happy, said Seidenberg. I think getting past where youve ever been before gives you some confidence and gratification.

We knew we hadnt played anywhere close to as good as we could have. After the first two games everyone was thinking, Oh, God, the firings are going to happen, but the coaching staff never lost that calmness.

"It helped a lot. They always kept telling us they believed in us. It definitely helps to have a coach thats got calmness and composure getting through those situations.

A coaching staff that certainly knew its careers hung in the balance approached the rest of the series with a calm resolve that the situation would get turned around. Most importantly, Julien never once let anybody see him sweat.

That approach, and the innovative decision to bring his hockey club to Lake Placid in the middle of the Montreal series, helped settle things down, and theyve won eight of nine games since that start.

The series victories over the Canadiens and the Flyers have won some measure of job security for Julien and the other members of the staff, and high compliments from Bruins president Cam Neely. Even the woeful power play has begun producing with goals in each of their last two playoff games, and a swagger has returned to those both sitting on the bench . . . and standing behind it.

Julien tells a story of once asking Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman for advice about coaching, and the one thing that stuck with Julien was Bowmans words about adapting and changing with the game. The Bs coach has done just that after learning from failed assignments in Montreal and New Jersey prior to Boston.

Some of Juliens evolution as a coach owes a debt to the pressure exerted by Neely, who has pushed Julien to shorten his bench, open things up with the defensemen to promote scoring, and wield ice time with some level of authority when effort is a question mark.

That willingness to change with the team and the importance of preaching a consistent message to his players, in good times and bad, is one of Juliens biggest strengths, and its also the reason he was now able to lead the Bruins into the third round of the playoffs.

Some called for a punitive bag skate at the tail end of the regular season after a deflating loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre, and others were simply waiting for the bottom to drop out during the playoffs. But Julien never fully cracked the whip.

His players fully appreciated the steady course of action and Juliens tacit confidence in them.

I think first of all as a coach, thats what youre hired to do: to make sure that you dont overreact and youve got to stay the course, said Julien. Youve got to make sure you stay in control. And if you do that, youre allowing your players a better balance.

Youve got to believe in yourselves once you get to this stage, and you should never panic no matter what the situation is . . . I think . . . an important lesson and message to give your players is that anything is possible. And our players obviously stayed the course, and they really took some small bites into the ensuing games.

For a young player like defenseman Adam McQuaid, going through the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time, the little things -- like reading and reacting to game situations and learning to pick his spots when it comes to introducing physicality into the game -- have been invaluable lessons learned.

Thats just old-fashioned coaching development with a young player who's improved nu leaps and bounds under Julien just as Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and so many other talented youngster have before him.

The coaching staff has given me an opportunity and thats the biggest thing, said McQuaid. Ive made my mistakes along the way, but theyve always been willing to work with me to correct things while putting me out there for other opportunities. There have been times when Julien has stuck with guys and theyve come through for him in big moments. The biggest thing to me is that the coaching staff didnt panic down 0-2 and then have it trickle down to us.

There were times when things were close and we could have really gotten stressed out, and we were able to reel things in and get focused for the game. That was one of the messages from the coaching staff, and you could see that they really believed it because of the body language.

Julien knows players are always paying attention to the tonality of the message from the coaching staff, and their all-important body language. Theyd now if their coach was simply blowing smoke.

But theres no smoke with Julien or the Bruins. Both the coaches and the players are in the exact right head space as they enter an all-important Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in two decades starting this weekend.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Friday, April 29: Spacey backs Barkov for NHL 2017 cover

cp-morning-skate.jpg

Friday, April 29: Spacey backs Barkov for NHL 2017 cover

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while pumped that Jon Bernthal is getting his own Netflix show as The Punisher. He was the best thing about the second season of Daredevil.

*Kevin Spacey is officially endorsing Aleksander Barkov for the cover EA Sports NHL 2017, and that continues the unlikely friendship between Spacey and the Florida Panthers.

*Patrick Kane knows that all eyes will be on him – for unfortunately good reasons -- moving forward with the Blackhawks after everything that went down with him on and off the ice over the last year.

*In true hot take fashion, Ryan Lambert thinks Bruce Boudreau should remain coach of the Ducks because he’s been unlucky in those pesky Game 7 playoff scenarios. Yup, it’s all about luck in sports. That must be why the Ducks fired him on Friday afternoon. So it’s another spot on piece of analysis from somebody that knows as much inside NHL hockey info as your local high school gym teacher.

*Speaking of hot takes, FOH (Friend of Haggs) Rob Rossi says that Tom Wilson isn’t a hockey player after his knee-on-knee hit of Connor Sheary in Game 1 of their playoff series. Wilson definitely isn’t as good a hockey player as Milan Lucic is in terms of offensive production, but he definitely can play the game of hockey a bit in addition to the thuggishness on the ice.

*Gary Lawless says the NHL and NHLPA have come to an agreement on players with no-movement clauses, who will need to be protected by their respective teams in any upcoming NHL expansion draft.

*PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mike Halford says that Russian wild card Alex Radulov is expecting to play in the NHL next season. That could be bad news to coaches everywhere looking to limit their quota of enigmatic Russian players on their roster.

*ICYMI, here’s my radio hit with Bob Stauffer from Oilers Now talking about the state of the Bruins as they head into the offseason.

*For something completely different: the passing of former Patriots player Ron Brace at 29 is so sad given what an excellent person he was in addition to being a solid local football product.

 

           

NHL Notes: McQuaid hopes Stamkos doesn’t rush back too soon

tampa-bay-lightning-steven-stamkos.jpg

NHL Notes: McQuaid hopes Stamkos doesn’t rush back too soon

The Tampa Bay Lightning has been decidedly vague about any potential return to the ice for Steven Stamkos in the Stanley Cup playoffs and that’s with excellent reason.

Clearly, the Bolts could use Stamkos back as soon as possible while embroiled in a tough second-round matchup against the New York Islanders, but that doesn’t appear as if it’s going to happen with Tampa just four tantalizing wins away from a return to the Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning superstar has been out since April 4 following his surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a blood clot condition that involves an area at the collarbone that requires a fairly extensive surgery to repair.

The surgery involves cutting the muscles around the clot, and permanently removing a rib. 

The original prognosis for Stamkos was a recovery time of 1-3 months. In an optimistic development, the 26-year-old has skated with his teammates for the past few days in a non-contact jersey. Stamos made it clear that he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to even get a chance to return and those that have gone through the same injury and surgery hope he does take his time.

Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid had the same Thoracic Outlet Syndrome blood clot issue and surgery in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, but his took place in  the first half of the schedule wiped out by the labor dispute. He was told at the time the injury was something extremely rare for a hockey player, but now he’s hearing of other cases around the league, including Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

“Everybody told me how rare it was for me to have this as a hockey player, and now there have been at least three other cases since,” McQuaid told CSNNE.com when asked about Stamkos at Bruins breakup day a couple of weeks ago. “It’s interesting. I don’t know if there’s a reason behind it. It can be a genetic thing where the space in there is a little smaller than somebody else, so somebody that doesn’t play sports or really lift weights won’t ever have an issue with it.

“Or it can be a previous injury that’s changed the landscape of your anatomy. I’m not 100 percent sure what the case was for me, but those are the causes, I guess. It sounds like [Stamkos] had the exact same surgery I did, so we’ll see. I followed the doctor’s orders and I still feel like I pushed things a little bit, and it was two months on blood thinners. I couldn’t lift anything for a month, so it takes a while to get all of that back.”

Regardless of how it happened, it took McQuaid multiple months to get off the blood thinners, get back to working and get on the ice for the first time, so he knows that any Stamkos return is later rather than sooner. It was also very clear to anybody who watched the rugged, rangy B’s blueliner in the 2013 abbreviated schedule that the extended period of time away from working out had a negative impact: McQuaid was seriously compromised in size and strength until getting a full summer to work back into peak condition.

So, jumping onto a moving Stanley Cup playoff train is going to be awfully difficult, if not totally impossible, for even somebody as talented and gifted as Stamkos. It makes the one month end of the 1-3 month timetable released by the Lightning at time of Stamkos’ injury announcement as much wishful thinking than anything expected to be a realistic return for Tampa Bay’s captain.

McQuaid said he hopes Stamkos weighs his future when making the final decision on a possible return. Stamos’ status as an unrestricted free agent this summer really puts a different wrinkle into the unique scenario.

“I guess I was somewhat fortunate because of the lockout that I didn’t miss any time,” said McQuaid, who had the symptoms crop up while driving from Boston to Prince Edward Island in late September 2012. “I know looking back now that I really needed to take the time to get my strength back. I know I wasn’t where I had been before the surgery when I came back [to play].

“You’re a hockey player so you’re going to come back as soon as you can if you’re deep into the playoffs. You want to come back and do everything you can to help your team. But it can be a serious thing, you know? The blood clots. [Stamkos] is a great player with so many great years ahead of him. You’ve got to take the time to let your body heal and do things the right way so you won’t have issues down the road with it.”

Nobody questions Stamkos’ toughness after he returned to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Bruins in 2013 after a puck practically tore his nose off, and he’ll return if things fall into place. But here’s hoping valor doesn’t get in the way of common sense for a tough hockey player in Stamkos who should heed the words of McQuaid, who has been in the exact same difficult position.

DEFENSEMEN FOR SALE

It’s common knowledge to those that have covered the Bruins the past 10 years that Don Sweeney and the B’s previously took a run at puck-moving defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk when he was traded from the Colorado Avalanche. The puck-moving defenseman was instead shipped to the St. Louis Blues, where he developed into an All-Star defenseman who’s still playing in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Dallas Stars.

But the former BU Terrier might not be sticking around in St. Louis for much longer.

According to an industry source, the Bruins “are well-positioned to take a run at Shattenkirk” because of the D-man’s desire to play in the Eastern Conference if/when he is dealt by the Blues this summer. Shattenkirk doesn’t have a no-trade clause per se, but it might sweeten the trade return for St. Louis if they move him to a new club confident he’ll sign an extension with them.

It also feels very much like something classy Blues GM Doug Armstrong would do in moving a good St. Louis soldier like Shattenkirk to a preferred NHL destination.  

With the Blues up against the salary cap with both David Backes and Jaden Schwartz up for new deals on July 1, Armstrong will be looking to deal a defenseman given the emergence of 22-year-old blueliner Colton Parayko. With Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson all holding no-trade clauses, it doesn’t leave a lot of viable options for tradable assets from the quality D-men surplus aside from the 27-year-old Shattenkirk.

The one sticking point for the Bruins will be price.

St. Louis and each of the other 28 NHL teams know that the Bruins are desperate for help on their back end, and that will be reflected in the premium price tag. Think something along the lines of the return to the Coyotes for a similar player in Keith Yandle: defenseman John Moore, top prospect Anthony Duclair, a lottery-protected first-round draft pick in 2016 and a second-round pick in 2015.

What’s the Bruins equivalent? Perhaps Zach Trotman, Ryan Spooner and a conditional first/second round pick based on whether Shattenkirk ends up signing a contract extension to stick around Boston beyond next season.

It makes perfect sense that the former BU defenseman could be one of the big blueline names moved this summer and the Bruins would register as a perfect fit given their need for a top-pairing puck-mover able to play 20-plus minutes a night with skill, production, precision and plenty of big-game poise.

Shattenkirk has all of those things, and would perhaps begin to allow Cam Neely and Sweeney to start patching together a back end that destroyed the Bruins’ playoff hopes last season.

ONE-TIMERS

*I got a kick out of the Twitter puritans that swore Jeremy Roenick let a curse word slip on the air in his Thursday night analysis of Game 1 between the Capitals and Penguins on NBCSN. Both Roenick and Mike Milbury were critical of the sloppiness and lack of defensive structure between the two teams, and JR called it basically a “shinny game” out on the ice.

A lot of people thought he said something that sounds like “shinny” and might have also aptly described the action from a defensive purist standpoint. For those outside the hockey bubble, shinny is basically a pickup hockey game with no penalties, no real hitting and just rushes up and down the ice where offense is a premium.  

So, Roenick definitely said “shinny” in this instance, and I know this because I’ve also said “shinny” on the air only to have people think I was damning the torpedoes and swearing on the air. I actually had one viewer sending me angry emails that I was swearing while he and his son watched me on TV before I explained what I had actually said.

So once and for all its “shinny,” people. Get your minds out of the gutter!

*Speaking of the Capitals, they now become the heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup in this humble hockey writer’s opinion with Western Conference heavyweights Los Angeles, Chicago and Anaheim now all eliminated from the postseason. Barry Trotz’s boys would be the first Eastern Conference team since the Bruins in 2011 to win the Cup if they can fully accomplish the mission at hand.

*I think it’s time to officially retire the “Darth Quaider” nickname for Adam McQuaid with the Bruins signing Czech goaltender Daniel “Darth” Vladar to a three-year, entry-level contract. There can be only one Sith Lord per NHL team. Besides, McQuaid still has never even seen the Star Wars movies despite the moniker. So the Force is not strong in that one.

Remember, keep shooting pucks at the net and good things are bound to happen. 

 

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron named Selke finalist for fifth time

bruins_patrice_bergeron_021116.jpg

Bruins' Patrice Bergeron named Selke finalist for fifth time

It was assumed that Patrice Bergeron will be finalist for the Selke Trophy again this season, and it became official on Thursday when it was announced that Bergeron, Ryan Kesler and Anze Kopitar were the three finalists for the award given to the best defensive forward.

It would be the third straight Selke Trophy and fourth overall for Bergeron if he can take the hardware home again during the NHL Awards in June, and the ever-humble No. 37 said he was just honored to once again be nominated.

“Being named a finalist for the Selke Trophy is a tremendous honor and one I am very grateful for,” said Bergeron in a press release. “While it is an individual award, my teammates and coaches deserve a lot of credit as well. Ryan and Anze are two elite players who both had great seasons and it is a privilege to be a finalist alongside them. Thanks to all of those who voted and I look forward to the NHL Awards Show on June 22.”

The Bruins center has won the Selke Trophy three times (2012, 2014 and 2015) and has now been a Selke finalist in each of the last five seasons. His three wins are tied for the second-most in NHL history, one behind Hall of Fame Canadiens forward Bob Gainey, who is the all-time leader with four Selke Trophies. Bergeron was the Bruins’ lone representative at the All-Star Game this winter for the second straight season, and was a no-brainer as a finalist given all of his defensive qualifications.

Bergeron finished the 2015-16 regular season leading the NHL in faceoffs taken (1,978) and for the second straight season led the league in faceoffs won (1,130) while finishing a solid seventh overall with a 57.1% faceoff win rate among players taking a minimum of 500 draws.