MONTREAL – Merci, Claude.
Facing a 2-1 deficit to the Montreal Canadiens heading into Game 4, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien put his lines in the blender and sent out four different combinations for the morning skate at Bell Centre. The goal? To keep things interesting for the media.
Attention hockey fans, make your voices heard and help us shape our coverage for next season by joining our NHL Fan Advisory Panel: sportsnet.ca/nhlfans
“I think it just gives you something to write about so that you don’t get bored,” Julien said Thursday. “Tonight I can decide whether I want to stick with those or put my lines back to what I want.”
The Bruins are a team that virtually never shakes things up. Heck, the top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla had been intact from training camp right through the end of Game 3 in Round 2.
For purposes of accuracy, the band of misfit toys on display Thursday were:
Even the Bruins official Twitter feed sensed that a little chicanery might be at play when it tacked on a “for what it’s worth” while sending out those combinations. At least one player, Reilly Smith, viewed it as an attempt to “lighten the mood.”
When asked by a reporter if it was an attempt to shake things up in the dressing room, Julien wouldn’t bite.
“Honestly, I think you’re overthinking it,” he said. “Honestly. We have fun with things sometimes and that’s all we’re doing right now. We’re OK. Like I said, if you guys want to write about that stuff that’s fine.
“We’re OK in there, we’re just focusing on our game.”
The Bruins have seemed just a touch off in this series. They are a team known for looking after all of the small details in a game and eventually overwhelming their opposition.
However, they were undone by mistakes during a 4-2 loss on Tuesday night. Missed assignments, poor choices, allowing P.K. Subban to score a breakaway goal straight out of the penalty box. They have trailed by two goals in all three games of this series.
“It’s meat and potatoes for us,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. “It’s sustaining a forecheck, wearing teams down – when we’re at the top of our game that’s we do. We haven’t done it yet.”
Julien will almost certainly make some changes; he just doesn’t didn’t want to advertise them. Winger Matt Fraser was recalled from AHL Providence while Justin Florek was returned. He’s a possibility. Centre Carl Soderberg missed the skate, but Julien indicated that he would be available.
The team is also carrying eight healthy defencemen and might contemplate a redesign on the back end.
However, the much bigger focus was getting back to the style of play that has seen this organization reach the Stanley Cup Final two of the last three seasons. More physical, more focused. There was every reason to expect it to happen.
“Keeping things simple (is important) in life, guys,” said Julien. “Last time I looked I think it was 2-1 in the series and there’s hockey to be played here. We’re not overconfident, we’re just saying we’re in a good series here – we’re in a big series – and we do things our way that we feel is right for our team.”
There has been a much different mood around the Habs this spring. They are unburdened; a team without too many expectations, at least as few as you can have while playing in Montreal. And they have played great while compiling a 6-1 record and seldom even trailing in a game.
For them, Game 4 offers an important opportunity. They could put the Bruins on the ropes.
“I’m convinced one of their goals was to win a game at the Bell Centre,” Habs coach Michel Therrien said Thursday morning. “So the game tonight is important for them, but for us as well. We want to continue on our roll.
“The deeper we go in the playoffs, the more we’re playing solid hockey, inspired hockey.”
On a morning where the Bruins showed a dramatically new look, Julien was clearly searching for a little inspiration of his own. Asked about Iginla, who may have freed the first line from a slump by scoring late in Game 3, he turned the attention right back on his group.
And he succeeded in giving us all something to write about.
“Right now, and I know this may be boring for you guys, and I just think our team has to play better,” said Julien. “It’s not Jarome. It’s not this guy or that guy. Our team has to play better – that’s how we succeed, OK? And Jarome’s part of that group.
“I don’t really spend too much time focusing on one guy; I spend a lot of time focusing on our team.”
A team that needs to be – and should be – better tonight.