|Bruins coach Claude Julien shouts from the bench during Boston's 3-2 win over the Islanders. (Getty)|
BOSTON -- Had you been standing in the middle of the Bruins locker room prior to their tilt against the Islanders, you just might have heard each and every player preaching the same message in stereo.
They said they had to treat their three remaining regular-season tilts like playoff games. Sixty-minute efforts were a must. Sharpness, focus and intensity had to be there.
Maybe all of that will come against the Senators on Saturday or perhaps the Devils on Sunday, but it certainly didn't happen in an undeniably ugly, 3-2 win over the Isles at TD Garden on Wednesday night.
Coach Claude Julien's blood may not have quite been boiling following the tilt, but it was very apparent that the Bruins bench boss was not a happy camper.
"Are you serious with that question?" Julien responded to a reporter who asked if that was the kind of effort he was looking for. "No, (that was) certainly not the kind of game you want to see from your team and I think the execution wasn’t very good tonight. We weren’t very sharp.
"Our best players certainly didn’t make a difference and who made a difference was our fourth line and the [Gregory] Campbell line was very good for us tonight, and the goaltender made some good saves for us."
Despite his own best efforts to prepare his club mentally for the matchup, Julien had to watch one miscue after another from behind the bench.
"It’s one of those games where you try and motivate your team to play hard and play well and I think there’s a challenge there," the disappointed coach said. "You know, you can say what you want and you can preach what you want, but there’s a lot of players I think that are looking forward to the next season and so those are the challenges that we have at this time of year."
With Boston's spot among the top three teams in the Eastern Conference secure, the Black and Gold went through Wednesday's tilt on autopilot for nearly the entirety of the game. Julien had seen enough of it by the time the final frame rolled around and decided to shake things up.
"Well I don’t know if it was motivating or more of we weren’t getting anything out of some of those lines," Julien said, as one of his maneuvers included replacing David Krejci with Chris Kelly on the top line. "By moving players around, you hope that you could get a little bit more. I think that Krejci's line had one shot there after two periods and he was the only one that had it, driving the net in the first. The other two guys ended up with no shots on net.
"I think we expect a little bit more and, you know, so (we ended up) making a change here. Maybe putting a guy that was going to be a more straightforward guy might have helped and David playing with some other wingers just to kind of spark things up. So I’m not blaming one or the other; I think that whole line was flat tonight. So we had to split them up."
The coach is also well aware that some of the players might be playing extra cautious in an attempt to avoid sustaining any injuries on the eve of the postseason.
"Well, how can you not think that way a little bit?" Julien said. "As a coach you’re going to push your team to play well, but in the back of your mind, you can’t control that, they’re saying, 'You know what? The last thing I need right now is an injury.' So that can be dangerous when you’re playing not to get injured. We’ve seen that in the past."
And at the end of the day, Julien knows there's only so much he can do or say, as the onus lies on the players to make the decision to ramp up their intensity -- whether the games are meaningful or not.
"I’m only a coach and I can only control so much," he said. "But the mindset of players is what it is, and when players want to play in the playoffs, you can’t blame them when they understand that the outcome of these next few games may not change much. But the fact that there’s a playoff around the corner, they want to be part of it."
If they come anywhere close to playing as poorly as they did on Wednesday, none of the Bruins will be part of the playoffs for very long.