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Bruins must get results without Claude Julien

Pressure on Boston GM Don Sweeney, players to win following firing of coach

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- The end of Claude Julien's tenure with the Boston Bruins had been a possibility for two-plus years, since they decided to let general manager Peter Chiarelli go in April of 2015, since they had missed one Stanley Cup Playoff and then another.

It was inevitable that, with a team that didn't live up to expectations, the coach would bear that burden. And so he did on Tuesday, when the Bruins and general manager Don Sweeney opted to fire Claude Julien, their coach for nearly a decade.

Julien had led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship, to the 2013 Cup Final, to a Presidents' Trophy, to years among atop the NHL's elite. He won himself a Jack Adams Award in the process. But this season, the Bruins were not performing the way the front office believed they should and Julien is out of a job, replaced by assistant Bruce Cassidy.

"I could not get past the fact that I wasn't committed, in my own mind, to going beyond where we are right now with Claude," said Sweeney, who wanted a different perspective, a "new set of eyes and a new voice," as he put it, with the hopes the Bruins will respond.

It is not always fair when a coach is fired, and that was probably true in this case. Julien was sacrificed and the question is whether it will make a difference for the Bruins now and in the future. Will they make the playoffs? Will they fix what needs to be fixed?

As forward Brad Marchand cautioned, "Just because this happened, it doesn't mean that we're all of a sudden going to be a great team."

There are still holes on the roster. The defense was not upgraded from last season, with the exception of rookie Brandon Carlo. The Bruins do not have a reliable backup goaltender; they've gotten one win from anyone other than Tuukka Rask. Even with some of the best possession numbers in the NHL, Boston ranks No. 22 in the League at 2.56 goals per game.

"I think if you look at what we have, if everyone plays their best every night, then we can be a good team. But we don't have that right now," Marchand said. "We have that sometimes and when we do, we beat top teams. But we don't have that all the time.

"We don't have enough for a couple guys to [perform] in one night. We need 20 guys every single night to work their butt off, to work extremely hard and not rely on skill, not rely on one or two guys or the goalie. If we don't have that, then we're going to be where we are."

Video: E.J. Hradek talks Bruins firing coach Claude Julien

It was apparent from Sweeney's comments that the coach and the general manager had a fundamentally different understanding of the roster, whether it was an issue of talent or one of underperformance.

"If the goaltender doesn't play well, is that necessarily on the coach? If the goalie plays well but the team doesn't score, is that necessarily on the coach? No, it's not," Sweeney said. "It's on myself, the players themselves, who need to accept that responsibility. We need to have better players in that situation or players step up and improve their own play."

More was expected from these Bruins, fairly or not. More was demanded. With the firing of Julien, there are hopes that more will be gotten.

"This is something that we brought on ourselves," Marchand said. "We didn't perform the way that we should and that we're capable of, and Claude is taking the fall for that. He's an incredible coach and has been for a long time. He's won everything, I think, that you can win. We have a tremendous amount of respect for him in this room and we were fortunate to have him as long as we did."

They no longer have him. The Claude Julien era in Boston is over. It's up to the players, and to Sweeney and Bruins president Cam Neely, to prove that they can be better than they have been, to prove that this was the wakeup call they needed, that the future is brighter than the recent past.

"I had the opportunity to play for nine different coaches as a player," Sweeney said. "Every time that you went through it, you should have gone home and looked in the mirror and said, 'Did I do enough to make this work?' Myself, as a general manager, I have to face that same fact."

The optics were not lost on management, or the media and fans, that the Bruins opted to fire their coach amid the jubilation of the New England Patriots and thousands of fans celebrating a championship, something the Bruins did six years ago. The first three questions at the press conference pressed that very topic on Sweeney, about timing and decision-making.

He apologized. He was not trying to obscure his coaching decision, he said. He was not trying to, literally, rain on the Patriots' parade. This, in his mind, was simply what needed to be done, when it needed to be done, with a couple of practice days ahead before the San Jose Sharks come to town on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SN360, SNW, TVA Sports, NESN, CSN-CA, NHL.TV).

"These decisions are not easy, and Don has my full support," Neely said in a statement. "I believe that we have a better team than our results to date show. I also recognize that there are areas that we as a group need to improve upon."

It is no longer Julien's team to lead; it is Sweeney's, and Neely's, and Cassidy's. It is their responsibility and their job to find their way back, to find what the Patriots found on Sunday, to find a way out and a way forward.

"I don't accept losing," Sweeney said. "If I fail, or if I have shortcomings in that regard, then I'll walk out the door saying I gave it my absolute best. Every decision I've made tried to be with the right intentions for the organization, both in the short-term and long-term."

Including this one.

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