NEWARK, N.J. -- Many coaches around the NHL would love to have the problems that Claude Julien has right now with the Boston Bruins, a first-place team that has won five of its past six games.
Those same coaches would also understand why Julien was trying to rip whatever hair he has left out of his head following the second period of Boston's 5-4 win against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Wednesday.
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The Bruins are winning and their top-ranked penalty kill has been exceptional, but there are plenty of areas in their game that need to get cleaned up before the Stanley Cup Playoffs roll around in 20 days.
They'll get another chance Thursday at TD Garden against the New York Islanders, who have won seven of nine and are looking to lock up their first playoff berth since 2007.
"The simple things sometimes are becoming complicated for us," Julien said.
Case-in-point -- the last five minutes of the second period Wednesday.
Boston had a 4-1 lead and a five-minute power play because of Anton Volchenkov's elbow to Brad Marchand's head. Instead of putting the Devils away, Milan Lucic handed the Devils a costly turnover in the neutral zone and it led to Travis Zajac scoring a shorthanded goal that changed what was up until that point looking like a miserable night for the home team.
"It's pretty obvious we gave them some life and that was probably the thing that disappointed the most," Julien said. "We had a good first period, in my mind, and we got a little lackadaisical in the second. Even before that five-minute [power play], we weren't as good as we could have been. But, we had to go out there in the third and regain the momentum."
Before they could do that, Julien felt he had to send a positive message to refocus what was an otherwise frustrated and negative team sitting in the dressing room between the second and third periods.
It wasn't easy, because he and his assistant coaches were in the back room, away from the team, trying to control their own emotions after witnessing a near collapse late in the second period.
"The guys were frustrated, but I talked to them and I said, 'We played a decent first, the second wasn't good, but our goal is still the same as it was before the game: Win the game and you're in first place in the division, so let's not lose sight of that and we can't bring the negativity onto the ice for the last period,'" Julien said.
"You really thrive on being as positive as you can, but we're in that back room and we're not necessarily positive, pulling our hair out," he continued. "It's frustrating when you look at what happens, but then you've gotta come in here and send a different message because it's important for those guys right now. They're being challenged."
The Bruins answered the challenge in the third period, but not before Devils defenseman Andy Greene scored on a wrist shot from the top of the left circle to close the gap to 4-3.
Julien, though, saw what he wanted to see from his team in the final 14 minutes.
"We have in the past panicked a bit, I didn't think we panicked and we went and got the next goal," he said, referring to Tyler Seguin's insurance goal less than two minutes after Greene scored. "There are some good things to build on."
"We want to be firing on all cylinders going into the playoffs. For us to compete for a championship, we have to be a team that does all those little things right, that relies on being strong up and down the lineup and for 60 minutes. I don't want to take anything away from the four points that we gained the last few games, but for sure there are things we can do better." -- Bruins forward Gregory Campbell
And that's how the players are choosing to look at their effort not only Wednesday, but in the other recent games they've won despite some of their own shortcomings.
They're not misguided in thinking everything in their game is clean and well because they know the power play has to catch fire, that their breakouts have to be better, that they need to be more poised with the puck and play with more control in order to stay out of the box.
However, the Bruins are 5-1-0 in their past six games, they're first in the Northeast Division for the time being, and they've got a chance to build on their lead Thursday against the Islanders.
It could be a lot worse.
"At this point in the year it's about being positive; about taking positive things from our game, which we can do the last couple of games, and it's about working on things we can work on," Gregory Campbell said.
"A win is a win, two points is two points and it doesn't really matter how you do it," he continued. "But we want to be firing on all cylinders going into the playoffs. For us to compete for a championship, we have to be a team that does all those little things right, that relies on being strong up and down the lineup and for 60 minutes. I don't want to take anything away from the four points that we gained the last few games, but for sure there are things we can do better."