So, if you think it’s been crazy to this point, then buckle up for the Bell Centre. The Series of Unexpected Twists and Turns, spiced thus far with a Claude Julien bench minor for “language,” is about to head to Montreal.
“Crap,” said Julien, a man who clearly had enough of it Saturday, a day in which his Bruins staged a thrilling 5-3 comeback win over the Canadiens.
Yes, crap, said the coach, who later repeated his point in French, which added a certain je ne sais quoi to the moment.
“The way we just battled back through,’’ mused the former Montreal bench boss, soon after his Bruins rallied from their 3-1 third-period deficit. “I felt a lot of the crap that we put up with today was pretty indicative of what our team’s all about.’’
Julien clearly wanted to say more, but he didn’t, which tells us we have untold stories to be revealed and tweeted in this old rivalry, which resumes Tuesday night in what for decades was the Bruins’ City of The Absurd.
“No, I think everybody who watched the game knows what was going on there,” said Julien, asked to add some context to his Game 2 thoughts. “So it was a tough game.”
The NHL accounting sheet for Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs shows the Canadiens and Bruins tied at one win apiece. The Habs won the opener, 4-3, in double overtime. The Bruins filched Saturday’s matinee, despite looking mostly lost, at times uncharacteristically confused, well into the third period. Through two games, everything is even, even if the math is a bit warped — such as the Bruins squeezing off a motherlode of 98 shots in the Game 1 loss, and the Habs now substantially ahead in lead time (58:08 vs. 11:39) over two games.
Julien was perturbed Saturday, presumably because he felt the officiating crew called the game through eyeglasses with bleu, blanc, et rouge lenses. By the end of the afternoon, the Canadiens were awarded six power plays, the Bruins only three. The coach’s ire began simmering early in the first period, with only 3:39 gone, when Jordan Caron was whistled off for a hooking call in Boston’s offensive end.
The call on Caron was not outrageous but ticky-tack, and enough to feed into that age-old worry that the Habs get all the breaks (flashback to Harry Sinden, in old Forum press box, exhorting, “Death, taxes, first penalty at the Forum!’’).
Julien also could have been irked that Michel Therrien, the Montreal coach, called a timeout when things were going all Habs hunky-dory on Causeway Street. Timeouts are typically reserved for times of trouble. But to signal a “T” when up a goal or two? Not a page from the Julien coaching guide. In his postgame remarks, he made a point to circle back on his judicious use of timeouts.
“Like I said,” he reminded the media corps, “I don’t always need a timeout in the middle of a period to get my point across.”
Point taken. But it was also very rare to see Julien, typically the picture of reserve, get all huffed up during a game, to the point he was slapped with that minor penalty. The Habs had just moved ahead, 2-1, on the first of two Thomas Vanek strikes, the first of his two power-play strikes, and Julien grew a little too pointed with the referees (Dave Jackson and Dan O’Rourke).
Penalty, two minutes: uncoachmanlike conduct.
“The referee . . . ” explained Julien, not naming which referee, “ . . . I kind of told him I didn’t agree with his calls.”
If it was deliberate, meant to provide spark to his otherwise sparkless squad, Julien wouldn’t say.
“That’s a secret I can’t reveal right now,” he said.
There is little secret now that the Bruins can ill afford handing the Habs too many power-play chances. It’s about all Montreal has going at this point. The Canadiens scored seven goals on Causeway Street, and four came on the power play. If the Bruins continue to run into penalty trouble in Montreal, where a full house of 21,273 makes that nearly a fait accompli, then they’ll be playing into what thus far has been the Habs’ only strong suit.
“Their crowd is as loud as our crowd was [Saturday] in the third period, [but] throughout the game,” said Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, knowing what awaits in Montreal. “Sometimes you let the nerves get the best of you and you make mistakes and take penalties. Then they capitalize on those.
“It’s a great building to play in, but you can make it tough on yourself sometimes.”
It could be even more difficult for the Bruins if they don’t get their own power play in gear. They were 0 for 5 in the two games at the Garden, rarely testing Habs goalie Carey Price in those nine minutes on the advantage. All things being even, the Bruins prefer to keep things at even strength. Of the eight goals they’ve scored, all came with the Habs skating five men — and even one more when Milan Lucic finished Game 2 with an empty-netter.
Boston’s best chance of winning the series rests in sticking to its disciplined, heavy game, wearing down the Habs with strong forechecking and pounding shots on Price.
If the Bruins keep yielding power-play chances, in which the talented P.K. Subban dines at the point like the game is an all-you-can-eat buffet, they’re in for two very long nights at the Bell Centre.
Meanwhile, the Habs are left to rely heavily on Price, who looked very vulnerable to shots around his shoulders in Game 2, and their ability to use their speedy legs to draw the Bruins into penalties. They know by now that they can’t prevail in this series if the Bruins keep to their reserved, structured game plan. In 7½ periods in Boston, the Habs were outscored, 8-3, when play was either five on five or even six on five for the Lucic empty-netter.
The “X” factor here, as always, is emotion, the human element. And Exhibit A Saturday was Julien, who, though no shrinking flower behind the bench, got caught up in the churn of it all. A rare slip by the unflappable coach.
Julien runs a tight, smart, disciplined team, one that usually follows his game plan and rule of order to a T. Even then, he allows some room for deviation, which isn’t to say Brad Marchand is a deviant, but the Lil’ Ball o’ Hate can be a handful some nights. But there was Julien, overly zealous in spirit and language, his minor penalty layering an extra two minutes of burden on his already-stressed troops.
No one knows the cauldron that awaits in Montreal better than Julien. He coached there for three seasons. He lived day-to-day in the all-Habs-and-to-hell-with-everyone-else culture. He walked the streets, pumped his gas, bought his deli sandwiches, and picked up his dry cleaning in the city where everyone wears a CH sweater over a CH heart. They haven’t won a Cup up there since 1993, and most of those 21,273 in the building these next two games will view themselves as apostles in a holy war.
Don’t bet on Julien going out of character again. Not up there. Not now. Not with his Bruins within 11 victories of another Cup. Because if he thinks he saw crap in Boston, he knows for certain how high and how fast it can pile up in his old hometown.