Right up until the moment the Bruins cart the Stanley Cup around the ice, coach Claude Julien is going to be criticized and derided, treated like his coaching strategy is the marriage of a "Hockey for Dummies" book and the back of a shampoo bottle -- roll four lines, rinse and repeat.
Coaching credit, that's reserved for Doc Rivers, Terry Francona and Bill Belichick. Like the Tampa Bay Lightning last night, Claude is shut out.
Julien is not viewed as a maestro who is getting the most out of his team and has the Bruins on the verge of a Stanley Cup final for the first time in 21 years. Nope, he is simply the hapless dope who put Tyler Seguin in park, preventing a sure 40-goal season, and who deigns to play Gregory Campbell.
The Spoked-Believers have a hard time embracing Julien. They want a coach with the personality of Don Cherry, the intensity of Mike Milbury or the playing pedigree of Terry O'Reilly. They can't put their faith in a guy who often looks like he's waiting in line behind someone fishing for exact change at the supermarket checkout, arms folded and mouth pursed in annoyance.Stolid and stay-the-course only works if you're wearing a hoodie. If you're Julien, it just makes you clueless, stubborn, predictable and, oh, yeah, a proven winner -- at least by the contemporary standards of the Spoked-B.
Last night's 2-0 shutout of the Lightning in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals was Julien's 27th playoff win behind the Boston bench, tying him with Art Ross for second-most in team history. Julien is 27-14 in the postseason with the Bruins. For a team that hadn't won a playoff series this millennium before Julien arrived, 27 playoff wins in four seasons is nothing to scoff at.
Two more playoff wins, and he will go where no Bruins coach has gone since Milbury in 1990, the Stanley Cup finals. Even if he doesn't guide the Bruins there, he has done exactly what he pledged to do when he took over the team.
"I am looking forward to the challenge of bringing this team to the level of expectation that the organization, the players and, most importantly -- the fans, want," Julien said on June 21, 2007.
There is no question that under Julien the expectations, and the interest, surrounding the Bruins have both increased.
Thus far, Julien is matching up just fine with Tampa Bay coach/strategic savant/media darling Guy Boucher.
Should he have played Seguin more sooner in the Game 1 loss? Absolutely, that was a mistake. But it's not the reason the Bruins lost the game. His team kicked away the game with an 85-second collective brain-freeze that resulted in a 3-0 deficit.
Julien corrected course with Seguin in Game 2, giving the rookie 13 minutes, 31 seconds of ice time -- the same amount as venerable veteran Mark Recchi and 10 seconds fewer than Brad Marchand.
Last night, with Patrice Bergeron back at Julien's disposal, the Bruins played his bland brand of hockey to perfection and stifled the Lightning, who left the ice frustrated and flummoxed.
Now, the Bruins, who hold a 2-1 lead over the Tampa Bay, only have to play .500 the rest of the series to reach the Cup final.
Who would have thought that after they went down 0-2 to the Canadiens in the first round? People were already penning Julien's Boston coaching obituary, and the Bruins looked like playoff passers-by. But Julien brought the Bruins back from the abyss, acknowledging his team was simply playing too tight.
While fans and media clamored for Seguin to play in Game 4 of the Montreal series, Julien stuck with Michael Ryder, who produced two goals, including the game-winner in overtime. Julien called The Timeout in that game, stopping play in the second period with the Bruins trailing, 3-1, and staring the same deficit in the series in the face.
By the end of the period, the game was tied. If the Bruins go on to play for the Cup, that timeout will go down as the pivotal moment of the playoffs.
The knock on Julien is that he doesn't make adjustments. After the offense sputtered in Game 1 against Tampa Bay, Julien swapped Chris Kelly, who was centering the second line in place of Bergeron, and Rich Peverley. The result was six goals and a five-goal second period. Three of those five second-period goals came with the Kelly-Seguin- Ryder line on the ice.
Perhaps Julien's most important decision of the playoffs was to pair his two best defensemen, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, together after the team slipped into an 0-2 hole against the Canadiens.
Those sound like adjustments to me. The only thing not being adjusted is the view of Julien.
No matter what Julien does he will always have last year's 3-0 collapse in the second round against the Philadelphia Flyers on his resume. While the Grady Little comparisons are entertaining, they're not accurate. There was no Little moment of decisive indecision, no glaring managerial gaffe. That ignominy was the property of Marc Savard and Vladimir Sobotka and their phantom line change in Game 7.
The fateful Flyers series changed when David Krejci, who was doing to Philly what he did to them this year, got knocked out in Game 3, and Simon Gagne returned for the Flyers in Game 4. Julien was also without Seidenberg, his best two-way defenseman this postseason. The German blueliner missed the entire playoffs after he had a tendon in his wrist sliced by a skate nine days before the playoffs.
If was generally known that Julien was fighting for his job this postseason. The job he's done so far should solidify the fact that he's earned the right to keep it.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.