Sometimes in life, we take the little things for granted. Such is the case with Bruins fans and their coach Claude Julien.
The 55-year-old has been under the microscope several times behind the bench on Causeway Street. The notables include Game 7 of their 2011 first-round playoff series in which The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont stated it was a game Julien “needed to win tonight if he hopes to preserve his job behind the bench beyond his fourth season” and last season’s disappointing finish outside the playoff picture.
He survived both of those and is now on the verge of becoming the winningest coach in franchise history. Julien’s nine-year tenure in Boston has seen many great moments and accomplishments from a team that, in the two years before his arrival in June 2007, finished in the bottom-third of the League standings and was torrid defensively. Things have changed since then.
Here’s a look back at Julien’s best achievements in Boston.
It didn’t take long for the Quebec native to make his mark.
In the short-lived Dave Lewis (remember him?) disaster during the 2006-07 season, the Bruins conceded goals like they were going out of style. Boston’s defense, who added current captain Zdeno Chara that summer, allowed 285 goals – 3.48 goals/game – in that campaign. It’s not a big surprise to find out they finished with the eighth-worst record in the NHL that season (35-41-6) and Lewis was promptly sent packing.
Julien restored the Bruins defense to respectability thanks to a structured system that worked so well for him in Montreal. In 2007-08, the B’s allowed 70 fewer goals from the season before and finished 11th in goals allowed/game (2.62). It’s not a coincidence to also learn Boston made the playoffs that season and gave the Canadiens a real scare in the first round before succumbing in seven games to the East’s best team.
It was the foundation for Boston’s five-year plan to greatness…but more on that later.
Starved for Offense
Two years later, the defensive structure of Julien’s system would pay dividends again.
Boston’s offense was famished. Dynamic playmaker Marc Savard struggled with concussion problems and missed 41 games in the 2009-10 season. The Bruins could only muster 196 regulation and overtime goals that year – fewest in the League. The offense scored two goals or fewer in 48 of 82 games.
And yet, they made the playoffs. The defense would step up in a big way for the Black and Gold. They only allowed 191 goals that season – second-fewest in the NHL behind the New Jersey Devils. Goaltender Tuukka Rask went 22-12-5 with a 1.97 goals-against-average and .931 save percentage that year. Both his GAA and save percentage led the League that season.
Their 09-10 campaign was summed up best by polarizing play-by-play voice of the Bruins, Jack Edwards.
Developing Their Own
What do Marchand, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron all have in common?
They have all been drafted, developed and risen to prominence under Julien’s watch. It all started with Bergeron, who has evolved into one of the elite two-way forwards in the game today. The 30-year-old center was primarily known as an offensive talent in his first few seasons in the League but is now a star in Julien’s defensive system.
The three Selke Trophies in 2010, 2014 and 2015 only confirm Bergeron’s rising status as an upper-echelon, defensive forward under the coach’s guidance.
Krejci is Boston’s best pure playmaker and has made great strides under Julien’s tutelage. The Czech center is perennially atop Boston’s scoring charts and has been a positive Corsi-For player in his entire Bruin career. He’s maintained the balance of being an offensive force while being defensively responsible too.
For Marchand, the 27-year-old has been one of Julien’s most consistent forwards since coming into the NHL in 2010. Six 20-goal campaigns in six full seasons (82 games) is about as good as it gets. This season Marchand has been able to have a career-year offensively with 33 goals yet still be one of Boston’s best possession players.
Starting 55.6-percent of his shifts in the defensive end, his 54-percent CF rating is second-best on the team behind Bergeron’s 54.7. The two are growing into one of the most underrated duos in all of hockey.
The 2015-16 Edition
Entering this season, Julien presumably had a short leash after being allowed to return behind the bench for a ninth season in Boston. Three straight losses had fans calling for change before the season even started.
Amazing how under-appreciated Claude Julien is in Boston! In my time covering and watching Boston sports, one of the best, EASILY!
— MurphysLaw74 (@MurphysLaw74) March 4, 2016
Entering March, the Bruins find themselves right in the thick of a race for the division title with Florida and Tampa Bay. Through all the ups and downs, Julien’s troops have not only found themselves in a playoff position for much of the season but also have one of the most dangerous offensive attacks in the League. Their work in the defensive end has left much to be desired at times but has been enough to carry them to their current position.
Some questioned whether Julien’s message had gone stale or his reluctance on giving the promising youth more ice time (Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak, etc.) was catching up to him. It has not, at least for now. Boston’s boss may not get serious consideration for the Jack Adams Award but the work he’s done in patching together a team that is contending in the Atlantic should be recognized.
Hoisting The Cup
It’s hard to imagine Julien was one bounce of the puck away in Game 7 against the Canadiens back in 2011 from losing his job. His Bruins were winless in three previous Game 7’s against Montreal (2008), Carolina (2009) and Philadelphia (2010) and one more failure to seal the deal would have most likely sent him packing.
Thanks to Nathan Horton, that didn’t happen.
Boston would go on to win three Game 7’s that year in their own personal vendetta after blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Flyers the year prior. Strong goaltending from Tim Thomas coupled with some clutch goals and puck luck ensured the B’s would bring the Cup home for the first time in 39 years.
Those who believed Julien wasn’t the right guy to lead Boston to a championship were silenced. Whenever the time comes for coach to depart, bringing a championship home to hockey-crazed New England is something fans should be forever grateful for.
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW