MONTREAL – It’s been so long since the Bruins played the Montreal Canadiens in a regular-season game that counted – almost a year in fact – that it might be easy to forget Saturday night is the first time the Black and Gold will face off against former longtime coach Claude Julien.
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The fact that it’s also coinciding with a Patriots playoff game has also perhaps dimmed the “Claude Bowl” spectacle that it could have been the Boston area.
Still, it’s been most of the talk up in Montreal. and at the Bell Centre, the past couple of days as the rivals are raring to go after five days off for their respective bye weeks.
For youngsters Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen, the Saturday night date will be about experiencing the storied, passionate Bruins-Habs rivalry for the first time. That really should be enough for Boston’s big rookie class as they’re still going through the full NHL experience for the first time.
And for longtime core B’s players Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand among others, it will be about getting used to seeing Claude now calling the shots behind the Montreal bench. Just like it will be an adjustment for Julien facing the team he guided for almost 10 years, including a Stanley Cup championship in 2011, and is now again on its way up in the Atlantic Division as the Canadiens are seemingly bottoming out.
“It’s important for me to kind of manage my emotions just like I ask my players to do in certain situations during the season. There’s no doubt that it’s a special thing because I spent a lot of great years in that city with an organization that treated me extremely well,” said Julien, when asked about the Saturday night matchup by reporters following Habs morning skate at their practice facility in Brossard, Quebec.
“I’m showing a lot of gratitude to them for that because I have a lot of great souvenirs from over those years [with the Bruins]. But at the same time I have to move on, understand where I am now and look forward to having success with [Montreal]. There’s a rivalry there and that’s twice now that I’ve switched sides, so you could say that I’m used to it.
"It's always special when you're going up against your former team for the first time, but what's really important to me is winning the game and giving ourselves a chance to get back in the playoff race. That's what matters most. They're always interesting games. There's a good rivalry between the two teams and it should continue."
It certainly won’t be all that radically different for the Bruins veterans than facing Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton, Johnny Boychuk, Tyler Seguin or any number of other former teammates and Cup winners in different uniforms. The first order of business is getting the win for Boston, of course, but for Bergeron and Marchand, there is still a great deal of affection there. Bergeron used all the buzzwords of appreciation and thankfulness when asked about his former coach, and clearly, the defensive-minded Julien and the two-way Quebecois centerman were made for each other in their nearly a decade working together.
“It’s going to be different. It’s special," Bergeron said. "Once you’re on the ice you’ve got to go out there and play your game, but that being said I’ve said it many times that I owe him so much. Hopefully, we have time to shake hands and say hi, but he’s really had a huge impact on all of us. We all know that. But if you look at the big picture it’s big points, and we all have to go out there and be good.”
For Marchand, Julien was only NHL coach he’d ever known up until February when Bruce Cassidy took over when he Julien was fired. Julien and his resident agitator engaged in many conversations about Marchand’s “shenanigans” early in his career and in turn about respecting the game.
In time the winger grew from a fourth-line rookie into one of the NHL’s best players and underwent that full transformation under Julien. Marchand is actually the perfect clapback answer for those that criticize Julien’s handling of young players. Marchand, Lucic, Boychuk, David Krejci, Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug all developed into bona-fide NHL players under Julien.
“It’ll be different. Obviously it’s been a while since the [coaching] change, but it will be a little odd seeing him on the other side,” said Marchand. “I knew that everything he did [as a coach] was because he wanted me to be a better player. He expected a lot from me and that’s normally how it goes: If a coach is hard on you it’s because he expects a lot from you and knows that you can be better.
“I’m very grateful with the way he wanted me to be a better player. The biggest thing [with me] was respecting the game, and the right timing for things. Instead of stirring the pot, he wanted me to just play the game. Another thing was putting me with [Bergeron on his line], he wanted me to just watch him, learn the way he played and trained, and the way he took care of himself off the ice. I think he really pushed me to be a better pro, and that was the biggest thing.”
The bottom line is that the storied rivalry has really been a bit muted the past few years. Julien’s move to the Habs could certainly breathe some life back into it if things get a little nasty on the ice and some hard feelings get built up. That could very well happen given Montreal’s need to gain some ground playing Boston three times in the next eight days and the very emotional nature of the Julien narrative headed into the game.
The fact that the Bruins and Habs are also playing three times in the next eight days kick very well kick off some extracurricular stuff as well.
If that’s the way things go down, then the sentimental memories and verbal bouquets tossed between the rivals might make way for good, old-fashioned hate on the ice. That’s really what it should be all about when it comes to the Habs, Bruins and an admitted double-agent like Julien, who pretty much immediately went to the one unforgivable NHL destination from the perspective of most around the Black and Gold.