TAMPA — On April 2, 2007, the Bruins gathered at the Bell Centre in Montreal and received some startling news. The Devils had fired first-year coach Claude Julien.
The day before, the Devils had defeated the Bruins, 3-1. The joke in the Bruins’ dressing room was that the Devils hadn’t beaten them by enough.
Six seasons later, the joke is on the Devils. Julien’s New Jersey sacking and his hiring in Boston on June 21, 2007, are two of the most important transactions in Bruins history. Julien is now the longest-tenured coach in the Eastern Conference following Buffalo’s firing of Lindy Ruff on Wednesday. Given the Stanley Cup win in 2010-11, five straight years of playoff appearances, and a sixth postseason invitation likely to take place, Julien won’t be leaving Boston any time soon.
“His team prides itself on playing good two-way hockey,” said Jay Pandolfo. “He stresses that all the time. It’s nice to be part of it and get a chance to play for him again.”
Pandolfo was in a similar situation in 2006-07. He played for a first-place team, and linemates John Madden and Sergei Brylin defined textbook two-way hockey as the Devils’ go-to checkers. Pandolfo’s coach stressed accountability.
But then Pandolfo and his teammates were blindsided by general manager Lou Lamoriello’s decision. Julien was out; Lamoriello would take over behind the bench.
“You’re in first place with three games left,” said Pandolfo. “I don’t know the reason behind it. I don’t know if it’s because it worked once with Lou doing it when he let Robbie Ftorek go with eight games left and we ended up winning the Stanley Cup [in 2000]. Maybe it was just in his head to try it again. Sometimes you never know what Lou’s thinking or feeling. Sometimes he’ll just make a change any time. As a head coach, you’re in first place. I think we were on a bit of a winning streak, too. No one likes to see that happen.”
Pandolfo’s life as a Bruin doesn’t qualify as glamorous. He served on a professional tryout agreement until Feb. 12, and has been a healthy scratch for two of the three games since he signed his contract. The 38-year-old is one of the last players still on the ice after practices and morning skates.
But one of the reasons Pandolfo accepted his PTO and one-year contract was to play for Julien again.
“I don’t know if he’s changed,” Pandolfo said. “I think he learned a lot from that experience. Sometimes New Jersey’s not the easiest place to coach. He got better from it. As a coach, you always have to be willing to learn and adapt. He’s obviously done that and it’s paid off for him. I was really happy when the Bruins won in 2011, for him and for the organization. It shows a lot about his character as a coach.”
On Thursday, third-year Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher praised the Bruins. Boucher said that facing the Bruins is playing a culture, not just a team. Julien has played one of the most significant roles in building that culture.
The Senators, already without Erik Karlsson (Achilles’) and Jason Spezza (back), lost goalie Craig Anderson to a sprained ankle during Thursday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Rangers. Anderson is day-to-day.
The Senators have depth in goal. Ex-University of Maine puck-stopper Ben Bishop replaced Anderson, and the Senators recalled hotshot Robin Lehner from AHL Binghamton.
However, if the Senators stumble with Anderson on the shelf, it may make them more agreeable to trading captain Daniel Alfredsson, who would be a good fit in Boston.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was once an assistant GM in Ottawa, and Alfredsson would be reunited with ex-teammates Zdeno Chara and Chris Kelly. Alfredsson could even play with Kelly on the No. 3 line, along with Rich Peverley. It would give the Bruins more even-strength offense, as well as a two-way presence. Alfredsson could also help on the power play.
Brad Marchand scored his team-leading ninth goal on Thursday, on just his 20th shot. “He’s got a quick release,” Julien said. “A lot of times, goalies don’t get a chance to see the shot. It gets off his stick. He’s a natural goal scorer. We’ve seen that year after year.” . . . Chara submitted one of his signature shutdown performances against the Lightning. Matched mostly against Benoit Pouliot, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis, Chara helped keep Tampa’s No. 2 line off the scoresheet in 26:23 of ice time. Offensively, Chara set up Nathan Horton’s second goal with a slap pass . . . The Bruins had Friday off, and will practice on Saturday. They play the Panthers Sunday afternoon.