After the Boston Bruins eliminated the New York Rangers by winning Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series, losing coach John Tortorella had nothing but praise for the man behind the opposite bench.
"I think Claude and that staff has done a heck of a job with their club," Tortorella said of Claude Julien. "I can’t believe some of the people, how they second-guess him, just being in [Boston] for a few days, and the type of job he’s done here.
"That's a good team. They’re very well-coached, and they’re seasoned. They've been through it before, and I give them a lot of credit, as far as what they’ve done with their club. They’re a good hockey team."
A panel of nine NHL.com writers agrees. In a close vote, Julien was selected as the top coach through the first two rounds of this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. Though he received two first-place votes, two fewer than Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings, Julien's 15 points were one more than Babcock, who led a rebuilding team within a Game 7 overtime loss of the Western Conference Final. Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks, who eliminated the Red Wings, was third with 10 points.
Each panelist was asked to name three coaches in order of preference. A first-place vote was worth three points, a second-place vote was worth two, and a third-place vote received one. The panel was widely split, with five coaches receiving at least one first-place vote.
Though the Bruins are just two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup, there was talk before this year's playoffs started that Julien's job could be at risk. The Bruins frittered away the Northeast Division title in the final week of the season, blew a 3-1 series lead in the opening round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and trailed 4-1 with less than 11 minutes to play in the third period of that Game 7.
But the Bruins refused to panic, rallied to tie the game in regulation and won it on an overtime goal by Patrice Bergeron. After that scare, Boston had little trouble with New York, earning a meeting with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.
Julien did a masterful job in rolling all of his lines -- his fourth line of Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell dominated the Rangers -- but he did his best juggling on defense, where injuries left Boston without three of its six regular blueliners for most of the second-round series.
Julien, who led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011, shares a mutual respect with his players.
"I spent most of my career in the minors, and the one thing you want to do is treat your players with respect," Julien said this week. "There is that fine line between respect and authority, and I always keep that in mind. [My players] know who is in charge, but there is some respect there and they can come knock on my door whenever they want. There are those times when you can joke around with them, but on game day they’ll see me just like they are; my head is into the game and it’s all about focus."
Respect has never been a problem for Babcock, one of the NHL's top coaches for the past decade. But with the core of the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2008 and got to the Final the next year starting to fade, Babcock did some of the best work of his career in 2012-13 by getting the Red Wings into the playoffs, upsetting the Anaheim Ducks in the first round and coming within an overtime goal in game 7 of doing the same to the Presidents' Trophy-winning Blackhawks in the conference semifinals.
"I don't think we made mistakes from a lack of work ethic ever this year," Babcock said. "I thought we competed. I thought this group was spectacular as far as that and energy. I enjoyed coaching this year as much as I ever enjoyed it. I had a great time."