The Canadiens signed Claude Julien to a five-year contract. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

The Canadiens signed Claude Julien to a five-year contract. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

The Atlantic-leading Canadiens not only hired Claude Julien to coach their team, but they backed up the Brinks truck to make it happen.

Granted permission to talk with the recently fired Bruins coach of 10 years on Sunday, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin quickly fired Michel Therrien and replaced him with Julien on Tuesday, and awarded the 56-year-old an additional five-year contract worth a reported $25 million (which begins next year) to make it happen.

“I’m convinced that in hiring Claude, we are getting one of the best coaches in the NHL,” Bergevin said. “In my estimation, he’s the best man to reach our goal. Claude has proven his worth.”

Not only does that contract take the Bruins off the hook for Julien’s reported $3 million contract next season, but actually gives the 2009 Jack Adams winner a raise from his salary with the Bruins and moves him closer to the top of the league’s highest-paid coaches behind Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock (over $6 million per season) and Blackhawks boss Joel Quenneville.

Julien, who admitted that he did not expect to get fired in-season with the Bruins, likes what he sees in the Habs, too.

“They skate well, they’ve got a good balance of grit and skill and some size,” Julien said of the Habs at his introductory conference call on Wednesday. “We all know they’ve got the best goaltender in the world. They’re solid in the back end and there’s a lot of talent up front. That’s not to say that we don’t have to fix things and make them better. I’m here to fix and tweak and do things that will put this team back on track. The key for me is to maximize that potential and give the team the best chance to win.”

This is Julien’s second tenure as Montreal’s coach and the second time he’s replaced Therrien as the team’s coach.

Julien compiled a 72–62–10–15 record in his first tenure with the Canadiens (and his Habs eliminated the B’s from the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs) from 2003 to 2006, and comes back to the ‘CH’ with a 538-332-10-117 career record, including the most wins in Bruins franchise history (393).

The Bruins struggled and went just 26-23-6 record under Julien before his dismissal on Feb. 7.

Fired by the Bruins just games before the 1,000th game of his NHL coaching career, which oddly enough would have come against the Canadiens, Julien now gets a chance to do that with the team he grew up cheering for as a kid in Ottawa.

And is going to be paid handsomely to do so.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins are on Day 2 of a week-long break. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins are on Day 2 of a week-long break. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins, who at one point this season had a stretch that included 50 games in just over 100 days, are happy to finally get some rest.

But of course, it had to happen right when the club is in the midst of their best stretch of the season, with wins in three straight games, including two wins over division leaders in the Sharks and Canadiens.

“Someone asked me that just before we played San Jose about the break, well if we’re winning we don’t want the break if you’re not then it’s a good time,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Sunday’s 4-0 thumping of the Habs. “It is what it is, right? I’d rather keep playing, guys will enjoy themselves, they’ve earned that and we’ll get ready to go Saturday for Sunday’s game in San Jose.”

“We’ll take it,” B’s defenseman Adam McQuaid admitted. “It’s our break, so yeah, I think it’s good. I think maybe when you’re stringing together a few wins, you might want to keep playing, but we get a little break, just come back with the same mindset.”

When the Bruins do come back, they’ll have the dreaded California tour with games against Sharks, Ducks, and Kings, and after that they will then head to Dallas for a head-to-head with the Stars.

It’s not exactly the most forgiving trip. And teams have not responded well to these breaks, as deserved as they may be.

Oof.

Although the Bruins have done their best to work their way out off death’s door with that aforementioned three-game winning streak to go into the bye (and the Bruins actually have wins in six of their last eight games, believe it or not), a slump out of the gate would put the Black and Gold right back into a dire situation and against some stiff competition no less.

Even after this four-game road swing through California and Texas, the Bruins will come back to the Garden for one game against the woeful Coyotes before the trade deadline comes (alternatively known as Bruins GM Don Sweeney’s last chance to improve his team’s chances to make the playoffs this season), and before it’s time for a head-to-head against the Rangers.

In other words, the Bruins have one gimme between now and March.

That’s why finding a way to keep this rolling while everyone is either on vacation, resting up, or just hanging out, is a must.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving on the break and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” David Backes said of the break. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. Again, it’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture and that’s what we’re building.”

With that said, the Bruins will keep tabs on where they are in the standings, but not dwell on ’em very much, if at all.

“Not a chance,” Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said when asked if he’d be watching hockey this week.

“Obviously we want things to go our way in the standings,” Cassidy said. “But listen if we take care of business, if the Boston Bruins take care of the Boston Bruins, hopefully we will be good enough.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Claude Julien is the new coach of the Canadiens. ( Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)Never have I realized that I needed something quite like I need a playoff series between the Bruins and Canadiens to come to life this spring.



Claude Julien has been hired by the Canadiens. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports)

Claude Julien has been hired by the Canadiens. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports)

Dumped by the Bruins exactly one week ago, Claude Julien has found a new love to spend Valentine’s Day with in the form of the Canadiens.

In one of the most surprising switches in recent hockey history, the Canadiens today subtly announced the firing of Michel Therrien and immediately replaced him with Julien. The move made loads of sense for the Canadiens, especially after the latest lifeless loss the Canadiens suffered, which fittingly came at the hands of the Bruins last Sunday.

Julien coached the Canadiens from 2003 to 2006, and was the man behind the bench when the Habs eliminated the Bruins in the first round of the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The 56-year-old Julien accumulated a 72–62–10–15 record during his first tenure with the Habs, and was oddly enough Therrien’s replacement the first time he worked for the Canadiens.

Julien, the B’s all-time winningest coach and 2009 Jack Adams winner, had a 26-23-6 record with the Bruins this season.

The Bruins and Canadiens do not meet again this season.

 

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic was a smiling face spotted in the press box during Sunday’s game between the Bruins and Canadiens.

Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are both on the trade block. (Eric Hartline-USA Today Sports)

Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are on the trade block, and their front office was in Boston last night. (Eric Hartline-USA Today Sports)

Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic was a smiling face spotted in the press box during Sunday’s game between the Bruins and Canadiens.

Sakic’s Avalanche, of course, were not in Boston nor will they be anytime soon. Sakic was accompanied to TD Garden by assistant GM Chris MacFarland and amateur scout Neil Shea, too, so I mean it was pretty clear that this was more than just a night in the Hub. The Avalanche, with an 11-point lead on the worst record in the NHL, are sellers, and both the Bruins and Canadiens are expected to be buyers. So the Avalanche are scouting. And scouting hard.

In what was an obvious ‘two birds with one stone’ kind of situation for Sakic and crew, things became interesting when nearly the entire second intermission was spent with Sakic and Bruins general manager Don Sweeney chatting it up against the walls of the ninth level.

It was certainly worth noting given where these two franchises are right now, namely with the calls for big changes that have followed each club all season long. But it’s also the ultimate ‘could be something, could be nothing’ that comes with bored reporters sitting in a booth with nothing to watch or report for 18 minutes.

At the same time, there’s nothing new when it comes to what these teams want from the other.

The Bruins have had interest in Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog for quite some time now.

Landeskog can play the heavy game that the Black and Gold have always had an affinity for, and he’s probably in need of a fresh start somewhere else given his declining numbers in three straight seasons (Landeskog is paced for what would be a career-low 37 points). Signed through 2021 at just over $5.5 million per season, Landeskog would also present the Bruins with a capable second-line option on the left side behind the elite Brad Marchand, which has been an issue at times this season, as injuries and inconsistencies have derailed or delayed Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano at various points this season. The need to find a fit next to David Krejci on that second line is a big one for the Bruins, too. Peter Cehlarik was the latest to get a crack to Krejci’s left, and was returned to the P-Bruins early this morning after tallying two assists in last night’s 4-0 win over the Canadiens.

But do the Bruins, who will have to pony up a good chunk of change on a new contract for budding superstar David Pastrnak this summer (likely somewhere in the $6 million per season range), really want to invest in a player that’s trended downwards in back-to-back-to-back seasons with the pure hope that it’ll work out here and that he’ll begin to live up to his expectations as a former No. 2 overall pick? At first glance, likely not. But then you remember what Sweeney said less than a week ago.

“I’d prefer to err on the side of a player that will integrate into us on the longer-term,” Sweeney admitted of his trade deadline plans. “Last year, we gave up draft picks. I wasn’t prepared to move players that I felt in the same regard that teams had asked for in order to get a higher-level rental or a different kind of rental. I’m not going to deviate from what I said. Are there players and we have a surplus? That’s what I want to try and evaluate and find out whether or not we can deal from a position of strength.”

The position of strength that interests the Avs, too, comes with the 6-foot-5 Brandon Carlo.

A 20-year-old that’s already playing top-pairing minutes as a fit with Zdeno Chara, Carlo fits a definite need for a defenseless Avalanche group (even if the Avs’ right side looks relatively set between Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie). But do the Bruins have a strong enough read on what Carlo truly is to justify trading him? Utilized in a defense-first role under Claude Julien, interim head coach has said that he believes there’s a more offensive side to Carlo’s game, and would like to find ways to bring that out.

At the same time, however, the Bruins are somewhat jammed on the right side between Carlo, Colin Miller (who is playing the best hockey of his career), Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller (Miller has played the left side because of this jam), and it will not get any easier once 2016 first-round pick Charlie McAvoy makes the jump from Comm Ave to Causeway Street next fall.

(Speaking of McAvoy and the Terriers, Sakic and his cohorts will be at the Garden once again on Monday night, too, to scout the Beanpot final between Boston University and Harvard. That game will feature four Bruins prospects between BU’s McAvoy, forward Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, along with the Crimson’s Ryan Donato and defenseman Wiley Sherman.)

And not much has changed overall. While everybody has seemed to indicate (maybe the better word there is believe or maybe even hope) that the Bruins and Avs will make a deal at some point, Sweeney has not seemed to budge on the idea that he’s not moving Carlo, who makes less than $800,000 for two more seasons after this one, for the pricier Landeskog.

But what about for the Avs’ other talented forward, Matt Duchene?

Another player that’s on the market (and one that the Habs have been expected to go all in on, which is an additional reason for Sakic’s presence at the Garden on Sunday), Duchene has scored 15 goals and 32 points in 48 games played this season. Although considered a natural center, Duchene has played both the left and right wings at times throughout his tenure with the Avalanche, and recorded the first 30-goal season of his pro career last year. And much like Landeskog, Duchene would not be a rental-type that Sweeney wants to avoid, and would count against a team’s cap for $6 million per season through 2019.

The quick-skating, shot-first forward may fit what the Bruins are looking for under Cassidy a bit more than Landeskog, too.

But like the problems that come with a Landeskog trade, Duchene would create a similar cap-jam when it comes to signing Pastrnak next summer if the lone NHL centerpiece moved out of Boston in the deal is the more-than-affordable Carlo contract.

And that could make the difference between the Bruins committing to such a deal or this is just being more talk.

“Do I think we have an opportunity to make the playoffs? Absolutely, there’s no question this group has a chance to get in. Whether or not I can find a player between now and the deadline that sort of fills all those gaps, that does remain to be seen,” Sweeney said during his media availability following Julien’s firing last week. “But I think it does tail with the fact that I’m not going to be shortsighted. I’m going to stick to the longer term view as to what I have put in place with the intention of being able to bridge and bringing in players like David Backes and surround our guys that we get a chance to win now and be competitive now. Our players and our core players are too good to not have that plan in place in the short-term and the long-term.”

A plan that has until the league’s Mar. 1 trade deadline to become clearer.

That’s more than enough time for some more intermission chats.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
McQuaid carries the puck up ice. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Adam McQuaid scored his second goal of the season Sunday night. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

In the Bruce Cassidy era, Bruins blue-liners have averaged 3.5 points per game. It’s a limited sample size, but the change in approach is worth noting.

In the 4-0 win over Montreal on Saturday night, that defensive dominance on the offensive side of the puck was evident again, but not being reckless was echoed throughout the team.

“They’re on a roll, so let’s enjoy it,” Cassidy said on the offensive output from the defense. “We’ve kind of encouraged that, and they take it to heart. I thought we did a much better job with our decision making when to activate as well. We weren’t reckless. We had doubts against Vancouver, we addressed it this morning, make the right decisions and for the most part we did make the decisions.”

The newfound scoring prowess of the defense benefited Adam McQuaid on Sunday night. In the first period, he took a slick pass from rookie forward Peter Cehlarik from the opposite wing and fired a one-timer past Carey Price.

“Without being reckless, without taking the focus off the right side of the puck,” said McQuaid. “Defense first. I think you always want to defend.”

It was McQuaid’s second goal of the season, and his first since Jan. 18 against Detroit. Of his 12 career goals in the NHL, five of them have come against the Habs.

“Couldn’t tell you,” McQuaid said of his Montreal success. “Obviously it’s always great, there’s a great history between the organizations and there’s always fun and intense games when the teams play. I’m not thinking of trying to score more against them or anyone else.”

With three points in his last six games, including two of them in the past two contests, the defenseman has seemed to find a rhythm.

In a career mired by injuries, it wasn’t clear what McQuaid’s future might be with the team heading into this season.

A glut of potential NHL-level defenders with the emergence of Brandon Carlo and the hope Joe Morrow and Colin Miller would become consistent players left the veteran McQuaid in an uncertain position.

While almost never offensive-minded, it seems McQuaid has begun to shine in Cassidy’s system.

“Sometimes I just watch and see if a lane opens up, if I can find it,” said McQuaid. “The lane opened up and Peter made a nice pass. Good timing.”

Four of the 14 goals since Cassidy took the reigns have come from defenders. Krug has 35 points this season, good for fourth on the team, but outside of him the blue line hasn’t produced much.

The rest of the D corps, with Chara, McQuaid, Carlo, Kevan Miller, Colin Miller and John-Michael Liles, has combined for 49 points, eight less than Brad Marchand alone.

That seems to be a new focus of the Cassidy-led Bruins.

“Keeping things in perspective, over-aggressive I think is a big thing that happens sometimes and you get an odd man rush the other way,” said McQuaid. “We can jump in and add an element that way.

“I don’t think things have changed a lot. It’s still defense first, it always will be, I think it’s just trying to be decisive and closing. If you see another person and they react then you can react; the first guy doesn’t get the best read but you can get a read off that and cover for him and then everyone’s working hard to come back and cover for each other.

McQuaid wasn’t the only defender to score, as Zdeno Chara found himself down low between the hashmarks and scored shorthanded.

“He was dialed in, he wanted to be out there in all key situations,” said Cassidy. “Joe [Sacco] is down there at that end of the bench now and he came and said that between periods he just wanted to stay out there and eat up minutes. He was ready to go and, listen, when your leaders are leading, playing like that, the other guys get pulled along. It’s great to see.”

Now the Bruins head into their bye week on a high note with three wins in a row, at home, no less. The defense has been a major part of the mini-streak, and that approach has gone as hoped for.

“We’re getting encouraged from the coaching staff, guys who are known for being more defensive to be supporting the attack and also from guys that are more known for the offensive part of their game, also taking big parts in playing defense,” said McQuaid. “So, we have to be able to do both. At times, the situations presents for offensive guys a little bit more, and at times, guys that are more known for the defensive part of the game.”

Blog Author: 
Marisa Ingemi
The Bruins are 3-0-0 under Bruce Cassidy. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins are 3-0-0 under Bruce Cassidy. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Interim head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted that he was going to be able to sleep well when he won his Bruins head coaching debut last Thursday. That sleep will continue through the B’s bye week, too, as the Bruins have rattled off three wins in as many games under Cassidy.

They apparently saved their best for the last game of what was a do-or-die type of weekend, as the Bruins rolled the Canadiens to a 4-0 final with contributions across the board and in all situations.

“Yeah it is,” Cassidy said when asked if this was the perfect high note to go into their five-day bye on. “It was a tough game tonight, you never know how those games are going to go, a big rivalry and it went our way. I thought we were full value for it. I thought we got better as the game went on, we dealt with some adversity, we were able to get the two points and that’s always enjoyable.”

In a rivalry that’s been one-sided over the last few seasons, especially in games played in Boston (the Bruins entered play with losses in nine straight home games against the Habs, their last win coming all the way back in Jan. 2012), they stayed true to the aggressive tendencies established in wins over the Sharks and Canucks.

And have yet another win to show for it.

With the pressure tilted towards the Canadiens’ Carey Price early, the Bruins rewarded with Adam McQuaid’s second goal of the season, scored just 8:57 into the first period. It would hold as the only goal of the period, but not before the Bruins had to kill off 1:37 of a 5-on-3 against, as Tuukka Rask escaped the period with stops on all 11 shots thrown his way.

It was in the second period that the Black and Gold took this game over, though, with a breakneck pace (and aided by four penalties taken by the Canadiens compared to just two for the Bruins), with 17 shots hammered on Price, along with two goals.

The first goal of the period came on a beautiful move by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara to dangle through multiple skaters before he ripped home his first shorthanded goal since 2011, and the second was on an excellent power-play passing sequence between Peter Cehlarik, David Backes, and finished off by a shot from David Krejci just 10 minutes after the Chara goal.

These in-game takeovers are something that was rarely seen from this group at any point this season under Claude Julien. And that’s not to suggest that Julien’s style did not work (because it worked for a very long time), but rather that a new voice was needed to kick those in-game adjustments from the players into the necessary gear given the stakes that come with a stretch run.

“At times we certainly played with [energy and confidence],” Cassidy said of the team’s early season struggles versus where they are now. “I think there’s been solid games for our group throughout the year, we’ve had others where we’ve just needed more confidence. So it’s bits and pieces. We just need it more consistently and hopefully this is a step in that direction.”

“It’s a level of intensity that has gone up, a level of commitment that’s gone up, a level of execution that’s gone up, and a level of belief,” Backes said when asked what’s changed for this team. “It seems like a different team when we are out there.”

Understanding the potential of this becoming a mere ‘sugar-high’ of the Bruins finding early success with a new voice behind the bench, it’s telling that every game has come with a noticeable improvements in areas of concern in the game before.

“We took one game at a time. Big games, every one of them. We knew that we needed to be better,” Chara acknowledged. “I think we were doing the right things in every game and trying to build on those. There were still mistakes, but we recovered and found a way to score goals, to defend, when we needed big saves, we got big saves. These are big points for us going into the bye week. We can only control how we play and I think we did that. So, now, it’s time to take some rest and be ready when we get back.”

But now comes the next challenge for the Bruins: finding a way to keep this going when their bye ends.

Something Cassidy, whose team is now just six points out of first place in the Atlantic Division, knows he can’t lose sleep over.

“If we take care of business, if the Boston Bruins take care of the Boston Bruins hopefully we will be good enough,” Cassidy said.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask recorded the 36th shutout of his career tonight. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask recorded the 36th shutout of his career tonight. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Rest on Saturday did Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask a whole lot of good Sunday night, as the 29-year-old stopped all 25 shots thrown his way en route to a 4-0 win over the rival Canadiens.

In what finished as Rask’s first career home win against the Canadiens, as he entered play with zero wins and an .890 save percentage in 12 prior Boston head-to-heads against the Habs, the 29-year-old was tested early and often and improved his 2016-17 season record against Montreal to two wins and just one goal allowed on 56 shots against.

“[His] performance was excellent,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Rask following the win. “We needed him early.”

It also inched Rask further up on the franchise’s record books.

Not only was it the club’s first shutout over the Canadiens since Nov. 2011, and their first home shutout against the Canadiens since Mar. 2011 (both zeros were posted by Rask’s old creasemate, Tim Thomas), but it also Rask moved into sole possession of second place on the club’s all-time shutouts list with career shutout No. 36.

Entering play tied with Frank Brimsek at 35, Rask now trails only Cecil ‘Tiny’ Thompson for the franchise lead. But don’t hold your breath on Rask (or anybody for that matter) catching Thompson, as he finished his B’s career with a whopping 74 shutouts.

Rask now has 27 wins and a .912 save percentage in 46 games this season.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

If you closed your eyes and just listened to the crowd at tonight’s season-series finale between the Bruins and Canadiens, you would have thought you had been transported back to the better days of 2011.