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Julien was on his game

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 11, 2009

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During last night’s second intermission, when his players returned to the dressing room with a 3-0 lead, coach Claude Julien reminded the Bruins that the Maple Leafs weren’t going to tuck their tails and whimper out of TD Garden in the third period.

“They were going to pinch and put a lot of pressure on us,’’ said Julien. “We had to be strong along the boards and we needed to get pucks in deep. This was their third game in four nights. We had to make them work for what they were going to get.’’

As Julien expected, the Leafs barreled off the bench to start the third. Despite his reminders, the Bruins wobbled under Toronto’s pressure. On the opening shift, Jason Blake blew through Marc Savard and Blake Wheeler and gave the puck to Tomas Kaberle, who ripped a shot wide of the goal. As the puck rimmed around the wall, Blake ran over Daniel Paille to keep the puck in the Boston zone. Andrew Ference, trying to reverse the puck to Dennis Wideman, instead gave it away behind the net to Niklas Hagman, who fed Mikhail Grabovski for Toronto’s first goal a mere 18 ticks into the period.

Then at 4:09, Nikolai Kulemin made it a one-goal game. That’s when Julien saw enough and called his timeout.

“We all saw that coming,’’ Zdeno Chara said of the breather. “Obviously, he’s an experienced coach, so when he called time out, it was time. We knew what we needed - a rebirth and getting back to our game.’’

Julien’s timeout worked. There was no screaming or rehashing of strategy, just a brake applied to Toronto’s momentum.

“It was about settling them down and making sure we didn’t panic,’’ said Julien.

In the first period, the reigning Coach of the Year made a call that helped create the opening goal. At 7:58, Toronto’s fourth line iced the puck, setting up a faceoff in the Leafs’ zone. Julien’s fourth line had been on the ice for less than 30 seconds. But Julien replaced his fourth-liners with his No. 1 line of Paille, Savard, and Wheeler. Savard won the draw cleanly against Jamal Mayers to Paille. The left wing shuttled the puck to Johnny Boychuk at the left point, who in turn gave it to Mark Stuart in the middle. Stuart buzzed a one-timer that beat Vesa Toskala five-hole at 8:01 of the first.

“Those plays only work when our centers win the faceoff,’’ Stuart said of the set play, which put him in the right position to open up for the one-timer. “Savvy did a great job.’’

Wideman returns
Wideman, who missed all three practices this week because of an upper-body injury, was in the lineup. He suffered the injury last Saturday against the Leafs and sat out the third period.

Wideman had missed three games earlier this season because of a shoulder injury. Wideman recorded three shots, three blocked shots, and one hit in 23:35 of ice time last night.

Six-pack on ice?
Six Bruins are still being evaluated for possible Olympic spots: Chara (Slovakia), Savard (Canada), Patrice Bergeron (Canada), Tim Thomas (United States), David Krejci (Czech Republic), and Marco Sturm (Germany).

Bergeron was not invited to Team Canada’s orientation camp in August. But Steve Yzerman, the team’s executive director, has informed Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli that Bergeron is still in the mix for one of the 23 spots. During the 2005 World Junior Championship, Bergeron struck gold while centering Canada’s No. 1 line between Sidney Crosby and Corey Perry. Bergeron has also skated at right wing during international play.

“In my mind, he certainly deserves consideration,’’ said Julien, who was a Team Canada assistant during the 2006 World Championship. “I’m leaving it at that because the decision is still for the coaches on the Olympic team and whatever they want to do with their team. You have to respect that part of it.

“I know how tough it is. I’ve been there. But when you look at the way he’s played, there’s no doubt in my mind he should be considered.’’

Tuukka Rask (9-2-2, 1.97 goals-against average, .932 save percentage) has performed well enough to enter Team Finland’s mix. But because of Finland’s depth in goal (Miikka Kiprusoff, Niklas Backstrom, Pekka Rinne, Antero Niittymaki), Rask is currently part of a contingency plan in case of injury.

Bitz out, Hunwick in
Byron Bitz didn’t play last night because he was feeling sick. Paille served as the No. 1 left wing, while Wheeler switched to the right side to replace Bitz. Matt Hunwick, a healthy scratch last Saturday for the first time this season, was back in the lineup as the left wing on the fourth line. Hunwick had two shots and two hits in 10:45 of ice time. Hunwick dressed as a forward six times last season. “He was good on the boards, he made good decisions, he made simple plays,’’ Julien said. “He’s a good skater. He’s a guy we can easily put out there and know he’s not going to hurt you. I thought he did a good job of taking that role tonight and making the best of it.’’ . . . Steve Begin landed eight thumps in 11:09 of ice time. Last night was the 15th game Begin served as an alternate captain. Julien is expected to rotate the “A’’ to another player for tomorrow’s game against the Islanders.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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