Commentary

Claude Julien a rock for Bruins

Positioned to win another Cup, underappreciated coach can do no wrong

Updated: June 18, 2013, 3:46 PM ET
By Jackie MacMullan | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- If you carved the Mount Rushmore of Boston's recent championship coaches into stone, Claude Julien would occupy the space chiseled for Teddy Roosevelt.

Washington would be too majestic, Lincoln too contemplative, Jefferson too cerebral. But like the president who once declared "Speak softly and carry a big stick," Julien knows how to make his voice resonate when he wants to deliver a message.

[+] EnlargeClaude Julien
AP Photo/Charles KrupaCoach Claude Julien has been a maestro behind the Bruins' bench and in the locker room.

He also clearly prefers rough riders to powdered wigs.

We may never know exactly what was said after the horrific first period in Game 2 of these Stanley Cup finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, but we do know this: Julien had seen enough, and he let his team know it.

"He said a few things that we're not going to talk about," Tyler Seguin confirmed. "The general words across the room, not just from Claude, were we needed to wake up and play our system. I don't know if we were ready to play on our toes. We seemed be on our heels."

After Julien drove home his point, he then made a switch that has altered this series. He strung together a new line of Seguin, Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille, and his team hasn't looked back since.

In the final two periods of Game 2, Kelly tied it with his first goal in 22 games, then Paille ripped off the game winner in overtime.

The momentum of that line continued to build Monday night. The Bruins blanked the Blackhawks 2-0 in Game 3 at TD Garden on the strength of another winning goal from Paille and his mates. As a result, Boston is two wins away from a tryst with Lord Stanley's Cup.

Pro sports is all about the athletes who perform at the highest level, so it's fitting that today there will be talk of the dexterity and concentration of goalie Tuukka Rask; the steady, unheralded toughness of Dennis Seidenberg; the knack Patrice Bergeron (who scored another goal Monday night) has for coming up big when his team needs him most; and the sudden prosperity of Paille & Co.

You won't hear too much about the coach, and that's fine with him. Julien's system isn't sexy, dynamic or prolific. It's steady, well-thought-out, predicated on team play and two-way effort.

"Our guys, they're back-checking, having layers, so when somebody makes a mistake you have somebody covering up," Julien explained. "We're blocking a lot of shots. The commitment is totally there."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick remains the Founding Father of the title runs in this current generation of Boston coaches, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers is going, going, going … and former Red Sox World Series manager Terry Francona is long gone.

Meanwhile, Julien is quietly lining up his team to snatch its second Stanley Cup in three seasons.

He made the line switch, he said, on a hunch. The chemistry of that line of Kelly, Seguin and Paille has reenergized each of the three.

"That goal tonight was created by three guys working hard and having fun," said Kelly, who dug the puck out and relayed a nifty pass to Paille out front.

Seguin once again left the rink without potting a goal, but that doesn't seem to matter much anymore because he's playing so hard and so well and so effectively since the switch. He picked up his third assist in as many games.

"I think there's a spark of confidence between the three of us," Seguin observed.

The coach who made the call has already joked that he has been fired at least 10 times in the papers since he took over the Bruins job. Had Boston lost to Toronto in the opening round, Julien may well have been handed a pink slip.

But the deeper this team goes, the more you appreciate his style, which eschews a star system and has even convinced one of the most heralded scorers of our time, Jaromir Jagr, that back-checking can actually be fun and rewarding.

Meanwhile, the Bruins continue to transform their penalty killing into an art form. Chicago went 0-for-5 on its power play again Monday night, which means, like the Pittsburgh Penguins before them, they've yet to score a goal with a man advantage. Boston's streak is at 27 consecutive kills.

[+] EnlargePaille/Seguin
Jim Davis/Getty ImagesPutting Daniel Paille and Tyler Seguin on a line with Chris Kelly has turned around the Cup finals.

Paille, a critical cog in the penalty-killing unit, says you need look no further than the man behind the bench to understand why they've been so disciplined in that area.

"Especially over the last year, [Julien] has shown a lot of confidence in myself and some other guys," Paille said. "It helps when you realize we can make plays because our coach has the confidence in you to do that. When that happens, you feel like you want do to something for him."

In the days leading up to the series with the Penguins, there was considerable discussion about whether the Bruins would be best suited to split up the power defensive combo of Zdeno Chara and Seidenberg to combat the firepower of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who skate on different lines.

Julien chose to stay the course. He kept his dynamic defensive duo intact and watched them impose their will on the Penguins' skilled forwards. Pittsburgh was swept, and Crosby and Malkin were shut out in the series.

Following a heartbreaking Game 1 loss to Chicago, when a costly giveaway by young defenseman Torey Krug sucked the air out of the Bruins' momentum, the chatter quickly escalated that Julien should demote Krug to a healthy scratch for the next game.

The coach didn't bite.

He never does.

Instead, he reviewed the missteps of his young player and urged him to press on.

"We've got to continue to play our best hockey, and at the same time fix the little things that we feel can make our game better," he said. "We're not a satisfied group."

The coach is not an exceptional orator. He's not looking to have his face etched in stone.

He just wants his name etched one more time on Lord Stanley's Cup.

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

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