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CHICAGO – Far too often in a world where hot sports takes rule, Bruins head coach Claude Julien gets buried by lazy criticism that paints him as a conservative coach unwilling to change his game plan midstream.
The simpleton’s view is that Julien is someone who only wants to roll four lines, someone who wants to play defense at the expense of good offense, someone who thinks a mid-game forward-line adjustment should be punishable by death.
If that were the truth, then it’s highly unlikely Julien would have led his hockey club into the playoffs in each of his six seasons behind the Bruins bench.
It’s even less likely he’d be three wins away from becoming the first coach in the organization’s 89-year history to capture two Stanley Cup championships.
There’s a reason Julien is on the fast track to becoming the organization’s greatest coach since they first dropped the puck back in 1924, and he put it on full display in Game 2 with an adjustment that swung momentum in the series.
Julien did exactly what his detractors say he never does in the second period of Game 2 in the Stanley Cup Finals, changing up his bottom forward pairings on what he called a coach’s "hunch."
It was a piece of hockey coaching perfection that sparked three struggling Bruins forwards, and paved the way for Boston to even the best-of-seven series at a game apiece.
The Bruins struggled through the first period. They were swarmed by a speedy Blackhawks attack and outshot by a 19-4 margin. In response, Julien went with a new third line of Daniel Paille, Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin that hadn’t previously been seen during the postseason.
The move left Kaspars Daugavins, Rich Peverley and Shawn Thornton as the fourth-line Island of Misfit Toys for the remainder of the game, but Kelly and Paille scored the Bruins' only two goals in their 2-1 overtime win in Game 2.
As in-game adjustments go on hockey’s biggest stage, Scotty Bowman and Toe Blake couldn’t have done it any better than Julien did.
“We didn't have much going," Julien said. "At one point I thought that line would give us something. They responded well. [They] got both goals. It's a hunch from a coach. I know that Dan is a great skater, and can make a lot of things happen. Seguin, after the first period, was one of the guys that picked up his game.
“Kelly was one of the guys that was good right from the start. I put those three guys together and they answered.”
The line accounted for four points, a plus-5 and seven shots on net, finally finding a way to unlock the dormant offensive abilities of Kelly and Seguin while giving Paille a pair of capable offensive players to team with.
While Kelly and Paille have played together at points over the last three years together, adding Seguin was a wrinkle that gave them the little sprinkle of offense they needed to light the lamp.
“The bottom-six have all played together at certain times. If it wasn't this year, last year, even the year before. We're all familiar with one another,” said Kelly. “I think Claude is just trying to find different chemistry with different guys, [and find out] who's going on any given night.
“Claude has a pretty good feel for his players. I think our line got thrown together, I don't know, end of the first, beginning of the second. I thought we went out there and played well.”
That combo allowed Kelly to score a second-period goal that finally got the Bruins on the board after a terrible first 20 minutes, and put up his first point in 18 Stanley Cup playoff games this spring. It also turned Seguin into a driven force, turning pucks over, creating chances, and jumping on a Blackhawks defense that withered in the face of a punishing, body-check-happy Bruins attack.
Kelly poked in the rebound of a Daniel Paille wraparound shot in the second period to tie things up at 1-1 after Seguin had stripped Michael Rozsival behind the net.
The key to any good forward line is getting a combination that accentuates the strengths of each individual player, and all three were operating at maximum efficiency over the final two regulation periods and into overtime.
“[The chemistry] was definitely there. For us it’s key to keep that confidence up, and bring it into the next game,” said Paille. “We’re happy that game-winner went in. It’s a relief to come back home 1-1.”
The final play was a thing of beauty. The Bruins won a face-off right outside the offensive zone, Adam McQuaid pounded it into the zone and Tyler Seguin jumped all over a Brent Seabrook outlet pass. Seguin flashed his top-shelf skill level with a cross-ice pass to Paille, and the Bruins left winger rattled the puck inside the pipe for the overtime game-winner.
“In the end it’s the Stanley Cup Finals, and results are all that matters,” said Seguin. “I just got the puck and saw Paille going toward the net, and managed to get the puck to him. It was a definitely big relief that we were able to get the job done, regardless of how we had played in the first period.”
Their line displayed a package of smarts, speed and tenacity that Chicago couldn’t handle, and the Boston coaching staff deserves credit for slapping them together.
The three forwards played together briefly out of necessity earlier in the playoffs, but Saturday night was the first time that trio got an extended look together in the postseason.
Given the results, Julien would be crazy to break them up now -- and even crazier to believe anybody who would accuse him of not having the ability to make proper in-game adjustments.
Let the history books show that Paille scored the overtime game-winner 13:48 into overtime of Game 2 after receiving a pass from Seguin. But the Bruins' coaching staff deserves the primary assist for putting his newfangled forward line together in Boston’s time of need.