Just in case it appeared to be fading, Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has applied fresh ink to the markings of the first momentous correction in his tenure.
Through a press release on the team’s website, Chiarelli announced late Monday afternoon that he has extended the contract of head coach Claude Julien, who wasted no time kicking ice chips over the one-year blunder of Dave Lewis.
Upon his arrival in 2007-08, Julien started by ending Boston’s four-year absence from the Stanley Cup playoffs with no hesitation, delivering the last available seed in the Eastern Conference bracket. The Bruins made irreproachable use of that seed to push their then-nemesis from Montreal to seven games in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The next stride was made the following season with the franchise’s first playoff series victory in a decade. Julien then guided the Bruins to a third straight playoff appearance, making him the first Boston skipper to do so since Brian Sutter in 1995.
The spring of 2011 saw Julien’s pupils flex their trademark resilience, successively amounting to the end of a 19-year hiatus from the conference finals, a 21-year layaway from the Cup final and a 39-year championship drought.
In a way, the final upshot of the latest campaign returned the team to square one in the wake of a seven-game, first-round falter at the hands of the Washington Capitals. Coming up short in a series that saw each game decided by a single goal and an unproven Braden Holtby in the opposing net suggested the Bruins are still unaccustomed to the top-dog role.
Therein sits a silver lining, though. Julien and the core groups from his first season in Boston and his banner campaign alike ought to know what they still have to prove.
With the same 16 skaters who came back for more in 2011-12 under contract through at least 2012-13, the Bruins can strive for a similar energy conversion they attained under Julien in 2009 and 2011.
After the Canadiens burst their bubble following a couple of elimination-game victories in 2008, Boston surged to the point where the rivalry’s roles were reversed. The culmination was a regular-season conference crown and a sweep of Montreal in the opening round, Julien’s only series victory to date when his team could have been deemed the clear-cut favorite.
The Bruins’ ascension was subsequently stalled by back-to-back Game 7 losses on home ice in the conference semifinals. But just as they had done with the Habs two years prior, the 2010-11 edition mustered the inspiration to lend their latest villains, the Philadelphia Flyers, any subsequent satisfaction.
The end result was a 3-0-1 season series, followed by a sweep in their second-round playoff card. In turn, for the second time in as many opportunities, the Bruins had landed a rematch in the same round with the same team that had abolished them in Game 7 the year prior and claimed a swift, four-game redress.
No telling if they will get that same shot with the Capitals, but a bare minimum of four regular-season meetings are guaranteed.
Chiarelli can brook some legitimate criticism for too much inaction on his roster, but there is no cause to assume Julien cannot continue to succeed with what he is allotted.
To date, the only noteworthy transaction this offseason has been backbone and backstop Tim Thomas’ self-imposed sabbatical. The best the Bruins can do in response is try to raise a reliable replacement in Tuukka Rask, who was in net for the team’s mortifying meltdown in 2010 and has yet to see playoff action since.
Yet another crop of motivation waiting for harvest, is it not?
Before the 25-year-old Rask will remain the better part of the blue-line brigade, perhaps with rising two-way prospect Dougie Hamilton plugged into the equation.
Some skeptics may fear that Hamilton, a point-based playmaker and power-play producer at the major-junior level, will not translate suitably to the NHL under Julien. That he will offer no more improvement to the Bruins’ comically inept power play than Tomas Kaberle or Joe Corvo did.
But note that, whereas Kaberle and Corvo were veteran acquisitions from other organizations, Hamilton is a 2011 first-round draftee who has fostered a familiarity with the Bruins system through participation in various team-sanctioned camps.
The rise of Hamilton’s fellow young star, Tyler Seguin, has been no cause for grimace, either. With patiently instilled consistency, the former No. 2 pick in 2010 should finish burgeoning in his third NHL campaign after going from 11-11-22 to 29-38-67 transcripts in his first two.
Seguin was one of six Bruins to crack the 20-goal plateau last season. There almost certainly would have been a seventh in Nathan Horton if he had been healthy for the whole ride.
With the possible exception of 2008-09, the diverse depth chart was at its best up to this point during the Julien era in 2011-12. For another deep playoff run, all Boston would have needed was to translate that depth to the second season.
The group whiffed in that area on its first try versus Washington. But Julien has a dense history of overseeing sounder second efforts.