Julien deserves credit

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:30 PM ET


 When Claude Julien arrived in Montreal to coach the Canadiens last season, he brought with him a stack of rave reviews.

 Those who had played for him and those who had coached against him all agreed on one point: This guy knows his job.

 Now you can add the Boston Bruins to the list of believers.

 There are many, many reasons the Canadiens came back from a 3-1 disadvantage to defeat the Bruins in their Eastern Conference quarter-final and most of them have to do with the players themselves.

 LAST SUMMER

 But the man who orchestrated it all, the man who gave the players the best possible chance to succeed, was Julien.

 For the most part, it started last summer. Julien had taken over from Michel Therrien the previous January, but it is hard for a coach to establish a system in mid-season.

 But at the time, Julien made it clear what was to come.

 "I like to think of myself as a coach who gets the players to buy into my system," he said. "You see the successful teams around the league and they're all on the same page. That's what I want to do here in Montreal."

 By the time this season's training camp started, Julien knew the Canadiens didn't have the firepower to win shootouts. So if they were to win consistently, they'd have to cut down on their goals-against.

 To that end, Julien instituted a sound positional system. The Canadiens are as good as any team in the league at relieving pressure in their own end.

 "We have a system," defenceman Sheldon Souray said after the Canadiens won Game 7 against the Bruins. "It's preached and it's practised. And it's working for us.

 "But you know what? You can do all the Xs and Os that you want, but the bottom line is the players have to buy into it. We have. The coach has done a great job. He has played some players in different situations and they've responded."

 The key to the Montreal system is structured positional play. It is a great help to a defenceman to be able to move the puck quickly, secure in the knowledge that if he puts it to a certain spot, a teammate will be there.

 "If they're not, they're going to hear about it when they get back to the bench," Souray said with a laugh. "They've got to be responsible. It's nice to have that responsibility and not just be free-wheeling. It's nice to actually have a purpose."

 With that foundation in place, Julien then considered the individual matchups against the Bruins.

 For Game 3, when it became clear that his top line was having trouble, he inserted the enigmatic Alex Kovalev in place of Jan Bulis. That move worked so well that, after one round, Kovalev is tied for the lead in playoff scoring.

 But more importantly, he kept matching that line -- with Saku Koivu and Richard Zednik -- against the Bruins' top line of Joe Thornton, Mike Knuble and Glen Murray.

 Can you say mismatch? After six games, when Boston coach Mike Sullivan finally moved Murray to another line, the Montreal trio had amassed 18 points. The Bruins' threesome had five.

 Sullivan kept waiting for a breakout that never came. Julien, on the other hand, exploited the matchup, often changing on the fly to get it.

 Sullivan probably would have been wiser to send his second line of Mikael Nylander, Patrice Bergeron and Sergei Samsonov out against the Koivu line.

 While that Montreal line is adequate defensively, it's not great. Had Sullivan forced them to spend more time playing defence, they might not have been spending so much time at the other end winning games.

 But had he Sullivan taken that tack, perhaps Julien would have come up with another wrinkle.

 He does what all the best coaches do. He give his players the optimum circumstances in which to prove themselves.

 That's why the Canadiens are moving on to the next round.


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