January 30, 2012

Julien readying B's for intense stretch run

By Jesse Connolly

For the Boston Bruins, from their quartet of All-Stars to those that got to enjoy the week away, it was time to get back to work on Monday afternoon. 

All-Star Game participants Tyler Seguin, Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas were given the day off, but bench boss Claude Julien – who helped guide Team Chara to a 12-9 victory on Sunday up in Ottawa – was present and accounted for at TD Garden.

“It was a nice weekend,” said Julien. “I think it was nice for everybody that participated and everybody that was there to watch also. I thought the Senators, the city of Ottawa and the NHL did a great job of organizing it. It was a lot of fun.”

The coach admits, however, that the game clearly became serious business on both sides as the battle wore on.

“It was actually more intense than most I’ve seen,” Julien said. “It’s always going to be a no-hitter, we know that. But guys were back-checking, taking pucks away and a little bit more intense and competitive.

“In the third period going into it tied, you’ve got Timmy (Thomas) looking for his fourth win and a row, and ‘Alfie’ (Daniel Alfredsson) and his boys wanting to win it for Ottawa, so it did get competitive. You could see the intensity of the skating and the playmaking get better in the third.”

Now, Julien must refocus his troops and prepare for the final 35 games of the campaign.

“When you’re down to the last 35 to 40 games, the intensity really goes up another notch,” he said. “You’ve got teams that are fighting for positions, teams that are fighting for playoff spots. Teams that are basically out that don’t have a big chance, their players are either fighting for a job or a new contract. Everybody really has a reason to want to finish strong. It makes for really interesting hockey from here on in.”

Much to shock of many, Tuesday’s opponent is not among the squads looking to play the role of spoilers down the stretch.

The Senators currently sit in sixth in the Eastern Conference standings. Though they’ve played more games than any NHL team thus far, Ottawa still has a five-point cushion over the ninth-seeded Leafs – a pretty impressive feat for a team pegged to finish at or near the bottom of the conference before the year began.

“I think their coach has done a great job of bringing that group together and building some sort of chemistry,” Julien said of Paul MacLean, who’s in his first season behind the bench for the Sens. “They play hard, they don’t hang their heads. I know Paul, because I’ve played with Paul in the past. He’s very good with the young players so, as far as developing them, he’s done a great job. His veterans are good and his goaltending has been pretty good so far.

“It may be a surprise for a lot of people where they are, but I will tell you right now that they’re the real deal.”

Tuesday’s tilt will be the third of six meetings between the B’s and Senators this season. Boston won each of the first two matchups.