Put away that pink slip for Claude Julien. He isn’t packing up and going home yet and neither are the Bruins.
Those who want to run the Bruins coach out of town if the team coughs up a playoff spot for the second consecutive season are going to have to put a few more pins in their Julien voodoo dolls between now and the season-finale Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.
A night that began with Julien’s job and the Bruins’ playoff hopes on very thin ice at TD Garden ended with the Bruins reciting playoff permutations and hoping for a little help from the hockey gods.
There was no elegy for the Bruins’ season or Julien’s Boston coaching career Thursday night, just much-needed urgency and execution from the Black and Gold, paving the way for a 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings in a de facto playoff game.
If the Bruins win on Saturday against the Senators, and the Red Wings lose their final game on Saturday or Philadelphia drops one of its last two, playoff hockey returns to the Hub. That’s the simple version. Trying to figure out the rest will make your eyes glaze over like a fresh sheet of ice.
Making the playoffs doesn’t guarantee Julien’s job is completely safe. But it’s a lot harder to justify canning the winningest coach in club history when he puts the team in the postseason for the eighth time in nine years.
It took the Bruins 53 days from their awkward season-ending news conference last April to announce Julien was returning, one of the all-time great Boston sports votes of no confidence for a championship-winning coach. If the Bruins complete their collapse, it won’t take nearly that long to dismiss Julien.
Whether the Bruins make the playoffs or not, Julien isn’t the root problem. The Bruins aren’t here because he didn’t use Brad Marchand in the shootout enough.
It’s the team’s attempt to retool the bottom of the roster on the fly with Maybe-B’s, the Spooners, Vatranos, Trotmans and Morrows.
The Bruins handed Julien a top-heavy team with holes on the blue line and the bottom six.
Duane Charles Parcells said, “You are what your record says you are.”
In this case, we have two years of evidence that the Bruins are a borderline playoff team, nothing more, nothing less.
Water finds its level in sports, even if that water is frozen.
Thursday, Julien coaxed the best out of his team.
“I can’t say enough about him,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I think he has always found a way to get us going, no matter what. At the end of the day, it’s also up to us as players to be at our best. Tonight was a perfect example. He’s definitely a great motivator and always finds a way. “
Motivation wasn’t hard to supply. A Detroit win would have locked up the third and final spot in the Atlantic Division and reduced the Bruins to battling Philadelphia for the final wild card in the East.
After going 2-7-1 to push themselves to the precipice of another postseason DNP, the Bruins came out flying with two goals in the first 2 minutes and 44 seconds of play.
Some Spoked-Believers were still settling into their seats on a soggy evening when Boston took the lead on a break-in by David Pastrnak at 1:25 of the first. John-Michael Liles’s cross-ice pass bounced perfectly off the boards to Pastrnak, who deftly whirled around Mike Green and deposited the puck past Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.
Just 1:19 later, Brad Marchand one-timed a nifty Torey Krug cross-ice feed from the right faceoff circle.
It was Marchand’s 37th goal of the season, and it came on the night he collected the NESN 7th Player Award.
The fact the team’s leading goal-scorer took the honor for a player who most exceeded expectations says something about how the new additions and neophytes that general manager Don Sweeney plugged into the roster have performed, no?
The Bruins extended their advantage to 3-0 on a power-play goal by Krug at 5:02 of the second, snapping a goal-less drought that dated to Dec. 5 for the Michigan native.
After Detroit made it 3-1, the Bruins iced the game with two goals in the first 45 seconds of the third period, giving them room to exhale.
There was no doubt the Bruins and their maligned coach were feeling the pressure of collapsing out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
The team didn’t hold a morning skate and only made injured players available to the media in the morning. Julien spoke pregame about his club “staying away from the negativity.”
Julien meant those who tote microphones and notebooks for a living, the folks who were preparing pucks postmortems.
It wasn’t the famous diatribe that former Celtics coach Rick Pitino fired off about the penchant for negativity in this town, but its intended recipients were clear.
It was also quite clear Julien wanted to keep his team away from the death watch.
An atmosphere of negativity was natural considering the Bruins woke up on March 15 in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division with 86 points, one point ahead of Tampa Bay and Florida, and are now fighting for their playoff lives.
“You know almost every team in this league goes through a slump at one point in the season, and, unfortunately, for us we hadn’t until this last month,” said Julien. “That’s what has really gotten us in trouble, and it’s unfortunate. But again you can look in the rear-view mirror or you can focus on Saturday, and that’s probably the best thing to do right now — to focus on Saturday.”
If the Bruins don’t make the playoffs the focus will be on Julien’s job, but it shouldn’t be.