Over halfway through game seven of their first round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it seemed as though the Boston Bruins had doomed their fans to a second straight summer of self-loathing masochism that was likely to continue well into next season. With the fate of more than a few careers hanging in the balance, the Bruins spent the next nine furious minutes of regulation pulling themselves back from that barren abyss by scoring the three goals necessary to force overtime. After the inevitable Patrice Bergeron game winner six minutes into the extra frame, the NBC camera panned to Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien, whose visible elation might just have been about more than just winning this one game.
In the following series against the New York Rangers, the Bruins powered past the blueshirts thanks in large part to the outstanding production from their fourth line. That merlot line is comprised of Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton, and Gregory Campbell and has combined for ten points, including four essential goals that swung the tide of that series.
A lot of the credit for that group’s success belongs to the much-maligned man behind the Boston bench. Even when the Bruins were struggling to score goals against the Leafs in the first round, Claude Julien steadfastly continued to roll his fourth line with regularity.
As it turns out, Julien might have had an idea about what that unit was capable of, and while many of his decisions deserve a weary eye, the Bruins coach has remained confident in his methods.
As maddening as watching teams coached by Julien can be, Bruins fans need to learn to appreciate a leader who understands what it takes to win. In recent memory professional coaches in the city of Boston have had tremendous success, but the honeymoon period for all four major sports is officially at an end.
Each of those coaches has handled success differently. Terry Francona’s complacence eventually lost him his team, and contributed to the two-year destruction of the city’s most beloved franchise.
Doc Rivers meanwhile has exhibited a stubborn confidence and loyalty that made him blind to the inconsistencies of his own players. River’s stubbornness was admirable, but due to the nature of the NBA, his success had a shorter shelf life.
The worst offender of this group by far is Patriots head coach and general manager Bill Belichick. By winning three super bowls in four years, Coach Bill set the bar pretty high, but the smugness that followed has been a little nauseating. The Pats haven’t won a title in nine seasons, and you have to wonder if that “I always know best” mentality has weakened the organization.
Julien has largely stayed out of the public limelight, but his quotes in the wake of the series-clinching win over the Rangers were equally enlightening and encouraging. On Sunday, Julien told reporters:
“When it comes to that stuff, I know what Boston is all about…They like their championship teams. They want to win every year. It’s a very demanding place, but at the same time, it’s a place where you wanna be. I enjoy it here. If it means taking some criticism, there’s no problem there. That comes with the territory."
Julien’s refreshing attitude gives us a glimpse of a private man who is acutely aware of his surroundings yet has skin that is thick enough to weather criticism. Has Claude been perfect? Of course not. His impassive expression and loyalty to some of his players have brought Julien’s judgment into question a multitude of times over the course of his career in Boston.
With a new starting goalie, underachieving veterans, and three rookie defenseman Claude Julien has continued to cook with the farmers market groceries that were bought for him.
At the end of the day, Julien is only a third of the equation. The management picks the players, the coaches coach, and most importantly, the players play. So for Bruins fans that are still clamoring for the B’s coach to be fired, just stop.
No matter how close the guillotine may have come to falling in round one, the coach and his system have refused to be sliced into obscurity. That system is frustrating to watch and easy to pick apart, but remember, the same system has produced a championship and has the Bruins knocking at the door of another.
Some coaches cling to their arrogance, while others cling to their adjustments. Claude Julien continues to succeed by relying on his unwavering confidence. Beating a team as talented as the Pittsburgh Penguins is the greatest challenge the Bruins have faced so far, but something tells this writer that the head coach probably isn’t all that worried about it.
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