Devils' Julien says firing took him by surprise

NEWARK, N.J. -- Claude Julien was as surprised as anyone
when he was fired as the New Jersey Devils coach Monday.

In his first public comments since being removed, Julien said he
wasn't expecting to be fired because only three games remained in
the regular season and his team was in first place and primed for
the playoffs.

"You're thinking you're going to be heading into the playoffs
and you're getting mentally prepared for that," Julien said in a
teleconference Wednesday. "You don't want to be let go with three
games left in the season, but at the same time, everybody has a job
to do, and that's a part of the game you have to understand."

Julien's firing stunned Devils players as well, even though the
team had gone through a rough stretch, losing seven of their first
10 games in March. New Jersey has won five of its last six games
since then, including Tuesday night's 2-1 win over Ottawa in
general manager Lou Lamoriello's first game behind the bench.

Julien didn't criticize Lamoriello, who told reporters Monday
that he made the 11th-hour change because he felt the team lacked
focus and wasn't mentally or physically ready for the playoffs.

"As coach, sometimes you make decisions that are tough to
understand but are for the good of the hockey club," Julien said.
"In Lou's mind, he really thought that was the best decision for
the hockey club, and I have to respect that."

The firing came a day after the Devils regained first place in
the Atlantic Division with a 3-1 win at home against Boston. Winger
Brian Gionta, last season's leading scorer, made his return in that
game after missing 19 of the team's previous 21 games with a groin

Forwards John Madden and Patrik Elias were also sidelined with
groin injuries but have returned to the lineup, though forward
Scott Gomez is nursing a leg injury. Julien said the team was
starting to regain its form in time for the playoffs.

"We were working on that, for sure," he said. "Obviously we
had some injuries, but you always hope that with your players
coming back it's going to help. But there are certain things you
can control and certain things you can't."

Although he acknowledged that the firing hurt him on a personal
as well as professional level, Julien said he had no regrets about
coming to the Devils last year and that in general he had been
treated well by Lamoriello.

Before coming to the Devils, Julien was fired by the Montreal
Canadiens midway through the 2005-06 season with a 19-16-6 record.
He led the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2004.

Lamoriello has moved behind the bench for the second straight
year, although he said he does not plan to coach the team again
next season. Julien said he had not talked to Lamoriello about
whether he would remain with the club in another capacity.

Julien was hired by New Jersey last June. Lamoriello had coached
the team through the end of the 2005-06 season following coach
Larry Robinson's surprise resignation in December 2005. The Devils
won their final 11 regular-season games to win the Atlantic
Division, then swept the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs
before losing to eventual champion Carolina in the conference