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Rask gives a crystal ball glimpse into B’s future 01.31.09 at 6:15 pm ET
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The future of Bruins goaltending, thy name is Tuukka.

Tuukka Rask, all 21 years and 325 days worth of him, made 35 stressful saves in a nailbiting 1-0 win over the defense-minded New York Rangers at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday afternoon, and looked every bit the bright prospect that he is within Boston’s development pipeline.

“We are confident in whoever is in (net), and today it was Tuukka [Rask],” said Bruins center Marc Savard, who scored the game’s only goal on a nifty tip of a Dennis Wideman shot with only 22.7 seconds remaining in the second period. “I mean give the kid credit, he has been waiting for his opportunity and he took advantage of it tonight. He is a NHL goaltender and we all know that, and he is going to get his time. Right now he can do a good job for us.”

The victory marked Boston’s seventh straight one-goal game during the current dog days of the NHL schedule, and it also provided a shimmering glimpse at just how much potential lies within the 6-foot-2, 171-pound, still-developing body of Rask. The Finnish goalie arrived in Boston three years in a trade that shipped beleaguered goalie Andrew Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he’s been heralded as one of the best young goalies in the world ever since.

“I’€™m so happy,” said Rask after his securing the third win of his wet-behind-the-ears NHL career. “Win a game one-to-nothing (on a) Saturday afternoon. What’€™s better than that?”

He didn’t exactly disprove that “future goalie” notion or the hype yesterday in notching his first career shutout against the Blueshirts — a nice little exclamation point to a solid emergency stretch that’s had Rask practicing with the Bruins and proving that his future as an NHLer is close. Perhaps even closer than many think. The lithe netminder was actually Boston’s best goalie during training camp and wasn’t exactly enthused when he was sent down to Providence during the fall.

But to his credit, Rask kept working and didn’t sulk and allow circumstances to dictate performance. He’s obviously still attempting to tack weight and muscle on to a frame that could clearly carry more of both, and he’s concentrated on maintaining his elite performance level in back-to-back games where stamina and strength are every bit as vital as puck-stopping skill.

While Rask went 2-1-1 with a 3.25 GAA in four appearances with the Bruins last season and clearly distinguished himself with a 30-save NHL debut in a 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs, he felt more prepared for action this season after seeing — and stopping – more shots while manning the pipes in Providence this season.

This season’s Baby B’s crew isn’t nearly as puck possession dominant as last season’s team of skaters and Rask is experiencing many more nights in the 25-30 save range — a change from having to fight off yawns while making 15-20 saves per game last season.

“This year down in Providence I get lots more shots than last year,” said Rask, who last appeared in a game for the Bruins on Dec. 6, 2007. “I mean, last year I had probably ten to 15 shots in a game and now I’€™ve got like 30 and it makes you feel a little bit more comfortable when you’€™re a little heated up and feel comfortable all the time.”

The B’s maintained their box-plus-one defensive style to a ‘T’ against the Rangers and kept nearly every attempt to the outside perimeters of the defensive zone, but the calm, collected Rask remained large in net without any wasted movement when things did get a little hairy. The Finn was at his best in the third period when he turned away 15 shots — including a deflection of a Michal Rozival shot that ticked off Rask’s stick and then bounced off the crossbar.

Rask was so locked in before the game even started that veteran Tim Thomas just left the kid alone, and didn’t offer any words of advice or encouragement — in some ways that silence was the ultimate show of respect from a been-there, done-that goaltender. 

“He is such an even keeled guy that you don’€™t notice him if there is a little shakiness in his game (or) if he’€™s nervous,” said Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward. “I wouldn’€™t be telling you that before the game he looked anything different than he did in practice. He’€™s a unique individual; he’€™s a goalie, so there you go. That says it all. Enough said.”

The biggest question now comes with the “other goalie” Manny Fernandez and the uncertain status of his balky back. The 34-year-old veteran was able to get out on the ice and skate Saturday morning before Rask’s netminding mastery, and Claude Julien voiced hope following the game that Man-Fern will be able to go through the motions of regular practice beginning Monday. Julien has insisted all along that the Bruins held Fernandez back to allow him time to truly heal his back issue, but it remains to be seen if his lower back is a nagging malady that could linger through the season’s second half.

Has Rask’s performance assured B’s front office types that the youngster is ready to handle backup duties amidst a season with Stanley Cup aspirations? Perhaps so. The possibility remains that Fernandez could be dealt for a draft pick or a needed spare part coming down the stretch — despite the constant assurances from GM Peter Chiarelli that he’s happy with his current veteran duo — and the chances get even stronger after a game like Saturday afternoon’s Rask-authored shutout.

The defense was spectacular in front of Rask in a 60 minute hockey game filled with plenty of playoff intensity, but the goaltending prodigy stood tall amidst the pressure from both rival shooters and himself. Bruins Nation got a pretty vivid glimpse at their future between the pipes with Rask’s performance on Saturday afternoon, and the future looks pretty damn good.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marc Savard
Chiarelli: Kessel a “good bet” to play tomorrow night 01.28.09 at 4:50 pm ET
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Bruins General Peter Chiarelli confirmed to WEEI.com this afternoon what winger Phil Kessel and coach Claude Julien both alluded to after Bruins practice this morning: Kessel is likely to make his return to the B’s lineup tomorrow night against the New Jersey Devils at the TD Banknorth Garden. Kessel has been out since Jan. 10 with a case of mono, but was cleared by team doctors yesterday to play in game action.

“I’m hoping. I think there’s a good bet that he’s going to play,” said Chiarelli. “It may be a game time decision, but I’m hoping that he’ll play.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Peter Chiarelli, Phil Kessel
Kessel cleared by doctors to play at 1:17 pm ET
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Phil Kessel has been out since Jan. 10 with mono, but said after practice that team doctors cleared him yesterday afternoon for a return to game action. With the ruling and positive testing that his spleen is again functioning normally, it isn’t out of the question that the skilled sniper will be available against the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night at the TD Banknorth Garden.

“I’m fine,” said Kessel, who still leads the B’s with 24 goals scored this season. “I got all my testing back from the doctors yesterday, so I’m cleared. I’m pretty happy.”

The 21-year-old forward wore a cloth wrap around his midsection as a precautionary measure to protect his spleen — which is the organ affected during mononucleosis — and admitted afterward that he hadn’t been feeling quite right for weeks heading up to the diagnosis in early January. Kessel had actually gone scoreless in the three games leading up to the doctor’s diagnosis of mono. 

“I thought I had it for a while when I was still playing, and I didn’t feel good for a while,” added Kessel. “I feel good again. A normal schedule again, you know? I hate watching. I wanted to be out there helping the team. I think I feel pretty good, and I’ve been skating around here and there.”

Claude Julien confirmed the good news and also concluded that Kessel could be ready for tomorrow night’s tilt against the Devils after another positive step in tomorrow’s morning skate the Garden.

“Late yesterday we had some news that he’s been cleared (to play),” said Julien. “So hopefully after today and tomorrow morning’s skate he should be able to come back and play. When you haven’t done much in the last couple of weeks it comes down to timing, and that’s what we were working on with him today at the end of practice: skills and handling the puck.

“We were helping him try to get his timing back,” added Julien.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Phil Kessel,
Patrice Bergeron cleared by doctors, ready to play 01.27.09 at 12:18 pm ET
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Patrice Bergeron was cleared by his team of doctors yesterday afternoon following practice, and he will be manning the right wing alongside David Krejci and Blake Wheeler tonight against the Washington Capitals (7 p.m.) at the TD Banknorth Garden. Bergeron missed 15 games after suffering a concussion against the Carolina Hurricanes back on Dec. 20, and said it was a mixture of both relief and excitement to hear he was hopping back into live games.

“I’ve been practicing for a while and I don’t think I’m going to get any more contact in practice,” said Bergeron. “It’s a relief. To have that talk with the doctors and get cleared to play, it’s a good feeling.”

Bruins coach Claude Julien said that it was simply a matter of time after getting clearance from Bruins team doctors and noted Mass General neurologist Dr. Robert Cantu, and the time had rapidly arrived to put the 23-year-old back on Boston’s active roster. Bergeron began practicing with the team again back on Jan. 11, and since then he’d skated several different times at the wing position.

“That’s fine,” said Bergeron. “I already told Claude that I’d play wherever. I played wing in my first year and I felt good. Obviously it’s an adjustment but I’ve been able to do it. Playing in the middle … that’s fine too. It really doesn’t matter where I play, but wherever it is I’ll be happy with it.”

Bruins winger Michael Ryder is likely out with the flu tonight, which opened up the spot for Bergeron to slide in and take his place on Boston’s best and most consistent line over the balance of the current hockey season. 

With the doctor’s note firmly in hand, the Bruins forward will be among several returning Bruins for the first game post-All-Star break along with defenseman Andrew Ference (leg) and winger Milan Lucic (shoulder).

“We’re glad to have him back, and under the circumstances this is really positive and great news for our hockey club,” said Julien. “Concussions are what they are and we really just hoped for the best. And the best is what has really happened. I don’t think — when it happened — that too many people thought he would be back this quick.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Patrice Bergeron,
Bruins make Highlight Reel at NHL All-Star Game 01.25.09 at 10:57 pm ET
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MONTREAL — The biggest lingering impression from All-Star Weekend in Montreal?

The Bruins cast just as big a hockey shadow during the Friday-through-Sunday festivities at the Bell Centre as they have while carving up the Eastern Conference during the hockey season’s first half. Once again the B’s came into the Habs’ backyard and took things over more than a little bit — even if Prima Donna Russian forward Alex Kovalev nabbed MVP honors with his shootout winner in the 12-11 victory for the Eastern Conference.

Rookie Blake Wheeler started things off by nabbing MVP honors in the YoungStars Game on Saturday, and Zdeno Chara followed by obliterating the record for the NHL’s hardest shot with a 105.4 mph blast that furthered the Bunyan-esque growing legend of Big Z. It was obviously an important moment for Chara as — after the game – he politely declined a Hockey Hall of Fame official’s request to procure the stick used to break the record. That particular 65 inch Easton stick is going back home to the Chara trophy case, but the towering D-man instead gladly donated one of his sticks used during actual All-Star Game action.

Tim Thomas was at his flip-flopping and leap-frogging best during the entire exhibition weekend. The B’s goaltender distanced himself from the other All-Star masked men by challenging every single shot at every opportunity. Thomas pretty much morphed into a little boy in his own driveway turning away bid after bid from the older neighborhood kids. After allowing some goals early in the third period, he zoned into true shutdown mode over the final four minutes of the third period, overtime and then in the shootout against Shane Doan and Rick Nash.

Here’s youtube to help out with an OT and shootout that were pretty entertaining…Thomas save on Iginla comes at the 3:38 mark of overtime.

The victory makes Thomas the winning goaltender in each of the last two All-Star Games, the fifth time in NHL All-Star Game history that a goalie has captured the W in two consecutive games. The others are Frank Brimsek (1947, 48), Jacques Plante (1958, 59), Johnny Bower (1961, 62) and Martin Brodeur (1997, 98). Thomas made a trademark sliding save against Jarome Iginla on the doorstep during overtime — one of his three saves in OT — that saved the game for the Eastern Conference and helped push them through the victorious shootout.

Not bad for a guy that didn’t even appear on the All-Star ballot this season. 

Marc Savard picked up three assists during the game centering a high-wattage line that featured Dany Heatley on his right wing and Alex Ovechkin along his left, and the B’s playmaker was also the final runner-up in Saturday’s newly adopted elimination shootout event.

Bruins coach Claude Julien exited the weekend exuding his trademark class after opting for the high road at each and every turn while truly embracing the All-Star opportunity — a choice that others might not have taken while visiting the site of a former coaching job that ended with a pink slip. A firing of Julien back in 2006 made way for current Habs coach and Eastern Conference All-Star assistant coach Guy Carbonneau.

Instead Julien sat back and watched his players excel during the NHL’s showcase of their best and brightest, and then rolled out the pucks in last night’s game until things tightened up in the third period. 

“I think this has been an outstanding weekend,” said Julien. “You can talk to any player, talk to any coaches. The way it’s been organized by this organization. The way the people that came to Montreal — and the Montreal fans — the way they’ve reacted to all of this has just made this whole weekend outstanding.

“Our players really enjoyed it,” added Julien. “They had a great weekend. They represented us extremely well.”

That being said, here’s a taste of what the Bruins’ participants will be taking away from All-Star weekend:

Tim Thomas: “The feeling of victory after we won shootout. Even though it’s an All-Star game and it’s supposed to be about fun — and it’s not supposed to be about being competitive. But every single person in here is a competitor. It doesn’t mean anything in the long run, but it’s just like if you’re out in the driveway and you scored a goal. That feeling you get, you know. It felt the same to me as any other shootout.

Zdeno Chara: “The skills competition. It was very special to me. It’s something that I’ll never forget and it’s something that can only happen to you a few times in your lifetime and in your career. I’ve always said before that records are made to be broken, and I’m just glad that I could get this one over with. It took 16 or 17 years to break this record, so we’ll see how long it takes to break this one.”

Claude Julien: “You come here to have fun, but you also have a lot of pride and you want to represent your organization well. All of our guys were outstanding. Tim stood tall in the shootout, and even that save with the stretched out pad. Z winning the competition with his shot. Savvy making it to the last two in the shootout. An MVP for Wheeler. Every single one of our players stood out at one point, and that’s great for the organization. Those certainly made the organization proud.”

Blake Wheeler: “I came away from the weekend just really impressed with watching all of these players up close, and just seeing how they go about their day-to-day business. For me it was a behind-the-scenes look at everything, and I just came away so impressed with everybody here. It was a fun weekend, for sure.”

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marc Savard
Julien: Bad blood between B’s coach and Guy Carbonneau is “blown out of proportion” 01.24.09 at 12:39 pm ET
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MONTREAL, Quebec — Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, who coached the Canadiens in his first NHL gig from 2003-06, defused any notion of bad blood between himself and current Habs coach Guy Carbonneau during the NHL All-Star coach’s press conference this morning. Carbonneau succeeded Julien behind the Habs bench after Julien was fired by Montreal GM back in 2006.

“I think we have to leave the rivalry where it should be left, and that’s during the regular season,” said Julien. :You know, we both have a job to do and we do it to the best of our abilities. I think the rivalry that’s been created between the two teams has been nothing but great for hockey.

We’re here together. We’re both people that are extremely proud of our job and we’re extremely proud competitors. But we’re able to put that aside and work together with no issues at all. I’ve known Guy even before he became a coach here. It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve worked together. I think [any bad blood] has really been blown out of proportion, to say the least.”

Carbonneau was posed the same question as Julien, and said he can sometimes play the same agitator role behind the bench that Bruins fans not-so-fondly remember during his heydey with the Habs. It wasn’t quite the dinner date scenario that Habs forward Alex Kovalev painted for the two rival coaches during yesterday’s media availability, but there seems to a truce in effect for the Mid-Winter Classic.

All that being said, I don’t see these two holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” around a camp fire any time in the near future.

“It’s an interesting thing,” said Carbonneau. “The players, we’re both competitive, and I think during the game sometimes things happen and things are said. But, you know, I’ve done this when I was a player and had no problem going out after the game with the [opposing] players. This weekend is going to be great.”

Read More: Alex Kovalev, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Guy Carbonneau
NHL conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien 01.17.09 at 12:11 pm ET
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Here’s the transcript from an NHL-sponsored conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien, who — as all of Bruins Nation knows — will be behind the bench for the Eastern Conference All-Star team at the Bell Centre in Montreal next weekend. It’s a homecoming for the B’s bench boss, who was the head coach for the Habs five years ago when the bottom-seeded Canadiens shocked the top-seeded Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Q. Coach Julien, I wonder what the emotion will be for you to not only coach in an All-Star Game but to do it in Montreal where you coached a few years and where you left abruptly? And what would it be like to have some guys that you you coached in your starting lineup who played for Montreal, still?

CLAUDE JULIEN: I think everything will be great. This is a city where I really enjoyed coaching. Again, with the coaching carousels, every once in a while you’ve got to move around. But it’s been great. There’s no animosity there at all. For me, it’s a pleasure to go back. Not just to Montreal, but also to represent the Bruins and the fact that I’m probably going to be hooking up there with some of the players that I’ve coached. It’s great. It’s great to see those guys again.

There’s always good relationships that get built between players and coaches over the course of the years. I think just having an opportunity to put everything aside for a couple of days and taking time to enjoy it is going to be great for me.

Q. What do you rate this in terms of achievements in your career? Going from where you started in junior and now you’re coaching an All?Star Game in the NHL? CLAUDE JULIEN:  I think the thing that you have to keep in mind here is that you’re there because of the people around you. As I’ve mentioned often, if it’s not for the players, your coaching staff doing such a great job.

You don’t get that honor just because of your individual work. You get that honor because of the work that people around you have done and helped you along the way. The way I look at it is I’m representing the Boston Bruins, and not necessarily representing myself. 

Q. I just want to talk about your Windsor days. It was obviously a long time ago, but I understand you still have quite a few friends in town, and I just wondered how you think your time in Windsor impacted you as a player and a coach? CLAUDE JULIEN: Oh, there’s no doubt. Everything in your life when you’re involved in hockey whether it’s a player or coaching, there’s always something that impacts you. I was there in the days when Wayne Cashman was a coach. And definitely a coach that got the most out of his players. 

We were a character team. And I think I grew as a player there. And everywhere you stop, you take a little bit from everybody. There’s a lot of things I liked from different coaches, and a lot of things I’ve seen from different players. You take a little bit from everything. At the same time, you try to build your own identity. But Windsor was definitely a place I enjoyed. But I still come back every once in a while to visit friends. 

Q. Why is San Jose playing better than Detroit this season? TODD MCLELLAN:  I don’t know if San Jose is. We’re competing right there with them. I still believe Detroit is the team to beat in the National Hockey League, with all due respect to Claude’s team and to our team here in San Jose. Obviously, the Calgary Flames are playing well. But Detroit has an aura about them.

They believe in themselves. They believe they can repeat as champions. It will be a tough task for anybody to knock them off. But at this moment as far as our hockey club goes, we’ve had a really good start. We’ve harnessed some of the early season energy, and we’re able to get out of the gate quickly. Our confidence grew, and now it’s about maintaining our game.

And tomorrow night we’ve got the Red Wings here. It will be a big task for us. But right now I still believe Detroit is the team to beat. Are the Sharks playing better than them? I don’t necessarily agree with that.

Q. Douglas Murray has a lot of fans here in Sweden. What can you say about him and his season so far?TODD MCLELLAN: Douglas is a huge part of our success and our future moving forward. He’s a big, physical defenseman. He provides that element of abrasiveness around our net. He’s certainly not the smoothest with the puck, but we don’t ask him to do that. We want him to play within his own means. He provides us that physical element and a real important part of our hockey club. 

Q. Julien, what lies behind Boston’s success this season compared to last season? CLAUDE JULIEN: Obviously, it’s a little bit more experience. I guess for the first part until lately it was obviously the health issue with our team. We remain pretty healthy for the most of the year so far until, as I mentioned, the last few weeks we’ve had guys go down.

But we’ve had a lot of guys grow through adversity last year. We’ve had some young players put into situations that they normally wouldn’t have been going through had there not been injuries last year. And I think with the acceleration and their progress has certainly shown this year and taken advantage of it.

But we’ve added a few players as well that’s kind of stabilized our team even more, and given us a little bit more scoring. Right now we’ve had most of our players playing pretty good hockey. You know, as Todd mentioned also, this is a situation where it’s just half the season. And most people don’t remember how you start, they remember how you finish. We’ve got another task ahead of us, and probably a tougher one, and we look forward to the challenge.

Q. P.J. Axelsson been with the Bruins for a few years now. What’s he contribute to the team? CLAUDE JULIEN: With the amount of time he’s been with the Bruins, and the respect he’s gained from his teammates he’s been a great leader for us on and off the ice. I think his anticipation of plays and he reads the play well.

He’s a smart player. We use him a lot in penalty killing situations. We’ve been using him a lot on the power play as well because of injuries. He’s a smart player that can make plays. So he brings a little of everything to our team. But most of all, I think we’ve appreciated his leadership qualities especially this year. 

Q. Sorry to go so local, but if you look back at the 2002?03 season, you guys coached respectively the best two teams in the NHL, and Claude, you got your job in Montreal. And I wondered if you could comment on that year, and what you remember of the Calder Cup? And did that season seem to impact your careers as much as it looks like from the outside? TODD MCLELLAN: I know from my perspective in Houston, it was a tremendous year. I really believed the two top teams ended up playing in that Calder Cup final, and it was a heck of a series. Claude did a tremendous job in growing that team, and he had the opportunity to leave. And Jeff Ward who is with him now took that Hamilton team right to the finals. So their coaching staff did a tremendous job in Hamilton, and a number of those players have gone on to play in the National League.

When you revert back to the Houston team again, it was a young team with veteran leadership. A number of those players have made impact in the Minnesota Wild organization. The series itself was incredible. It was extremely fast, skilled hockey. I remember the sellout in Hamilton in the final game. It was the last game played that year. I think the Stanley Cup had been awarded the night before. Just a real thriller. 

Did it impact my career? I believe it did. It was the first opportunity to win a championship as a head coach. Certainly it’s something that I revert back to on a daily basis here in San Jose about some of those experiences and how we handled ourselves. 

CLAUDE JULIEN: There’s no doubt it was an incredible year. As you mentioned, I ended up leaving halfway through. And I guess as great as it was to go to Montreal, you always have a little bit of regret not having the opportunity to finish your job.

So I really felt confident that our team was capable of challenging for that cup, and, you know, I actually attended Game 7, which Todd alluded to earlier, it was a sellout crowd. Something we hadn’t seen in Hamilton for years, and I don’t think it ever happened in the American Hockey League and in Hamilton itself. 

But it was a great game. I think Todd’s team was just on top of their game. It was really the better team that night. Certainly was a fun year for me. Obviously a great year as far as my personal career was concerned. I got the opportunity to move up to the NHL.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, P.J. Axelsson,
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