June 11, 2013

Julien fooled all the 'experts'

- BOSTON - The Bruins are back in the finals. For the second time in three years, the Bruins will represent the Eastern Conference in the final series of the playoffs.

In this day and age, two trips to the finals in three years makes you one of the top franchises in a sport. Winning two Stanley Cups in three years puts you in the conversation as a dynasty.

They would be a most unlikely dynasty. Just four weeks ago, the Bruins were down to the final two minutes of their season, trailing the Maple Leafs by a pair of goals in Game 7 of the first round.

They rallied to win that game and are 8-1 since.

In those dark hours leading up to the final game with the Leafs, Boston's sports radio stations lit up with calls calling for the head of Claude Julien.

Disgruntled hockey fans complained about the team's lack of offense. Too much defense, said the detractors. They said you can never win if you don't open things up on the offensive end.

Of course, they said the same things two years earlier when the Bruins lost the first two games of the playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens. Everyone knew Boston would never come back, and that Julien would pay the price.

Then, a funny thing happened. The Bruins survived that series by the slimmest of margins, winning Game 7 in overtime. They went on to win their first Cup in 39 years. Julien's system was exactly what the team needed to succeed.

The honeymoon lasted for a year. Even a first-round loss to the Capitals last season didn't cause too much unrest.

After a lockout delayed the start of this season, there was harmony in Bruins Country -- even as the team seemed to sleepwalk through the last six weeks of the regular season.

The murmurs didn't really start until the final games of the series with Toronto. Blowing a 3-1 lead would be unthinkable. Even after the remarkable Game 7 comeback, fans talked about the end of the Julien era during the first games of the conference semifinals.

It's doubtful you'll be hearing those voices now. The Bruins are back, and they're back big. The sweep of the high-flying Penguins was one of the most dominating performances in recent playoff history.

The heavily favored team from Pittsburgh never led in the series. Not for a single second. They didn't turn up the heat on Tuukka Rask until Game 3, a double-overtime classic that ended when Patrice Bergeron scored after midnight.

They threw everything they could at Rask in the final seconds of Game 4, but it was too late by then. The Bruins were the better team. They were tougher, more focused, and better in all phases of the game.

They were also better coached. Which is why there is already talk in Pittsburgh that Dan Bylsma has coached his last game with the team. He could be fired, like John Tortorella of the Rangers was fired after losing to the Bruins in five games.

Funny -- other coaches come and go and Julien stays the course. It's said defense wins championships, and that proved true in 2011. And it's four wins away from being the truth again in 2013.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.STANLEY CUP FINALS -- GAME 1

WHO: Bruins at Chicago Blackhawks

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday

TELEVISION: NBC

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