May 11, 2011

Julien, B's deservingly capturing New England's attention

Bruins coach Claude Julien barks from behind the bench during Game 3 against the Flyers. (Getty)

BOSTON -- When Claude Julien arrived in Boston in the summer of 2007, the Bruins were a proud organization that had fallen on hard times.

After a botched attempt to restock the team coming out of the lockout, one that saw them settle for castoffs like Alexei Zhamnov while all of the NHL's real stars signed on the dotted line elsewhere, the Black and Gold failed to qualify for the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

The latter of which came under coach Dave Lewis during the 2006-07 campaign, a season many will point to as the lowest of lows in recent Bruins history. In came Julien, largely responsible for helping an Original Six squad avoid further becoming the laughing stock of the league and an afterthought in its hometown.

"Well I think that’s been the goal from day one," Julien said. "We’ve always wanted to bring that, I guess that excitement back to this city. And to be at the stage we are right now, it’s great. Again, I’m going to say the same thing as a lot of people say when they get this far. You can’t be satisfied. We have bigger goals and we have bigger intentions than just getting to the third round."

The B's have qualified for the playoffs in each of Julien's four seasons at the helm, during which they've won four playoff series. From 1995 to 2007, before Julien took over, the Bruins advanced past the first round just once -- a series victory over the Hurricanes in 1999.

Julien has plenty to be proud of but, standing on the cusp of potentially ending a 39-year championship drought, he has no intentions of settling for a conference finals appearance.

"You've got to take care of business where you are at the moment, and that’s the third round," the coach said. "We understand it’s going to be a big challenge, but we certainly love to bring more excitement to this area and bring back hopefully a Stanley Cup Final to them. But again, you take one step at a time here. Tampa Bay’s a good team. That’s why they are where they are. We’re going to have a great challenge ahead of us."

Throughout the Bruins lengthy stretch of playoff futility, each of the other three major sports teams in Boston captured titles. The Patriots were victorious in three Super Bowls from 2002 to 2005, the Celtics went from the second-worst team in the league to NBA champions in 2008 and the Red Sox put their 86-year curse to bed in 2004 before capturing another World Series in 2007.

While none of the other three coaches in the area have reached out to Julien during his team's current playoff run, he knows they're all pulling for him.

"I think the one thing we do know in the past and right now, they certainly have our support," Julien said. "My support is with the Celtics and Doc Rivers' support is with us. And I’ve run into him in the hallway a few times and certainly we are all in this together. I think the success of New England is not just about one team, but about all of those teams. And I think we have a pretty good group here that seems to be on board with each other and wish each other nothing but good luck."

Julien's chance this year to join that trio of coaching champions is perhaps better than any he's ever had behind a team's bench.

"Well you want to be thinking that way, that this is our opportunity," said Julien. "And if there is one thing that we’ve learned through the years, is that there is no entitlement. We’ve gotten here because we have earned it. And if we are going to get an opportunity at challenging for the Stanley Cup, we certainly can’t have a sense of entitlement here. We still have to prove that we belong here."

Taking steps toward glory in the postseason is a process, as each stage gets harder and harder to reach. The Bruins current core got their feet wet together in 2008, bowing out against the Canadiens in round one. They learned from their disappointing loss to the Hurricanes the following spring and their oft-mentioned collapse against the Flyers a year ago.

Now, they're staring at the highest hurdle they've encountered together in the postseason.

"It only gets tougher as you move forward here and we understand that," said Julien. "I think we are up for the challenge and as I mentioned before, it is going to be a grind in this next round because they are a team that doesn’t give much space and I don’t think you are going to see a wide open game. It’s going to be about grinding it out and battling it out and that’s what we’re expecting and that’s what we are getting ready for."

Julien and the Bruins have grinded it out and battled their way up the ladder for the past four seasons. Now within reach of the top rung, they're fully deserving of all the attention New England has bestowed upon them.