Entering the 2011 NHL Playoffs, it was no secret that Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien was on the hot seat. That may sound strange for a head coach whose team entered the postseason as a No. 3 seed, but that was a position the Bruins had been in far too many times. Julien’s clubs were starting to develop a reputation as playoff chokers. A 3-0, 3-0 meltdown against the Flyers last season headlined his resume heading into the 2010-2011 season. Simply put, if Boston could not advance at least as far — and probably further — than it did last season, Julien was gone.
The fact that the Bruins have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals after an embarrassing meltdown in the semifinals last year would not be enough for Julien to keep his job. The way they have done it will be. Since Julien took over in 2007, his teams have been criticized for lacking balls. When they quickly got down 2-0 against Montreal in the opening round, Bruins fans thought they would see more of the same in the 2011 playoffs. After Boston ripped off three straight wins — including two on the road and two in overtime — and won Game 7 in overtime, we all got a glimpse of the testicular fortitude that has been lacking the last four years.
Still, there were doubters. The Bruins seemed to scare their fans even more by taking a 3-0 series lead over the Flyers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Boston fans were getting flashbacks of 2010 and could not trust that their team would close (including our own LB). They would have preferred to be down 1-2 and have to claw back than watch their beloved Bruins — who have not won a Stanley Cup since 1972 — suffer through another choke of epic proportions. Fortunately, Julien’s squad has done things differently this season.
Boston closed out the Flyers with another dominating 5-1 win Friday night in front of a packed TD Garden. Milan Lucic, who has been nonexistent throughout the entire postseason, scored twice. One of his goals even came on the power play — a unit that has been worse as a whole than Lucic has been by himself. The Bruins outhit the Flyers 23-19, as they had done all series. Tim Thomas was once again dominant, stopping 22 of 23 shots he saw. Boston fired on all cylinders for an entire series and, more importantly, never took their foot off the gas.
The Bruins will now have home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals against the dangerous Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They may still lack a prolific scorer or a player who can put the puck in the net consistently on the power play, but Boston is at no shortage of confidence. They defeated the Canadiens — a team that has given them so much trouble over the years — in seven games. They swept the Flyers — a team they should have swept last year but instead turned around and dropped four straight to. The monkey is off Boston’s back. This is a much different Bruins team and everyone from players to management knows it. Barring an embarrassing sweep against Tampa Bay, Julien can finally be confident he will keep his job. Bringing the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in over 20 years could only boost his resume.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charles KrupaGoogle+