PITTSBURGH -- In an Eastern Conference Final series featuring a variety of intriguing matchups, the two coaches involved have plenty of important decisions to make. For two of the NHL's longest-tenured bench bosses, it all starts with a strong mutual respect.
The Boston Bruins' Claude Julien is the NHL's third-longest tenured coach after taking over the team in 2007. Less than two years later, Dan Bylsma was hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins and he ranks seventh in tenure among coaches with their current team. Each has led his team to a Stanley Cup championship and won a Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year.
"I have a lot of respect for the way their team is coached," Bylsma said of Julien's Bruins. "They're very well-coached system-wise and how they play responsible -- not just defensively but throughout their game. You've seen that for a long period of time from their team, not just right now."
Julien is 256-144-56 in six seasons with Boston and 375-230-10-79 counting parts of four prior seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils. Bylsma reached 200 career victories faster than any coach in NHL history and is 201-92-25 in four-plus seasons with Pittsburgh. He is the only coach in the 46-year history of the Penguins to begin and complete four consecutive seasons as coach.
There are differences between them, sure. Julien is known for his defensive structure, Bylsma for an aggressive, puck-possession style. That only makes the head-to-head matchup between them more intriguing.
One of Julien's top cards to play is placing hulking defenseman Zdeno Chara against Pittsburgh's prominent offensive players. Julien also has Patrice Bergeron, who last summer was awarded the Frank Selke Trophy as the League's best defensive forward. He's a finalist again this year.
Chara and Bergeron can be effective against elite skill players, and the Penguins have an abundance of those. They'll both play key roles in Boston's efforts to neutralize Pittsburgh's star centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, along with high-scoring wings James Neal and Jarome Iginla.
"There's certainly matchups in this game such as when and how they're going to match up their defense and Chara against our guys, and there's also a centerman matchup we have in this game that we'll see play out," Bylsma said. "It's really more about the defense that they'll try to get in the game.
"They work really hard at it and are very good at it. They're probably the best in the League at getting that defensive matchup and getting that change in play and getting people on the ice they want to. We'll see a little bit of that, but it's not the straight matchup-type you see in some series."
The home team has the advantage in the matchup because the visitors must put their players on the ice first. Julien recognizes that and knows that no matter how much planning goes into it, no team gets all the matchups it wants.
"I'm not going to get 100 percent of my matchups, and neither is he," Julien said. "And that's what I've got to accept, and that's when you've got to rely on your team and your players to know they've got to do their job -- no matter who they're out there against."