They keep tinkering, each of them, looking for any advantage they can find.
Claude Julien made a line change in Game 2 that led to a victory for the Boston Bruins. A couple of subtle adjustments by Joel Quenneville helped the Chicago Blackhawks get a big win in Game 4.
Back and forth it goes. While the Bruins and Blackhawks compete on the ice, two former NHL defensemen are trying to become the 14th coach with at least two Stanley Cup titles.
“They’ve got a role to play, just like we do as players,” Chicago forward Patrick Sharp said Friday. “Ultimately it’s going to be decided on the ice, but our coaching staff, the Bruins as well, they have a lot to say with what goes on.”
They’ve already had an impact. And the next move, along with the response from the other bench, could be a deciding factor in who wins this tight series between two of the NHL’s most beloved franchises.
The Blackhawks’ 6-5 overtime victory in Boston on Wednesday made it a split of the first four games. The series resumes tonight in Chicago, with the rest of league’s coaching fraternity enjoying the chess match between two of its most accomplished members.
“What has been fun to watch is, neither guy is hoping for chemistry to develop,” St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They’re not sitting on a combination. They’re moving guys around to try to find something and their proactive approaches have been one of the great things about the series.”
Quenneville’s team appeared to be in trouble heading into Game 4. The Bruins controlled the last part of a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 2, stealing home-ice advantage from Chicago, and shut down the Blackhawks in a 2-0 victory Monday night that put Boston up 2-1 in the finals.
Looking for an offensive spark, Quenneville put captain Jonathan Toews back on the same line with Patrick Kane ahead of Game 4. Toews responded with his second goal of the playoffs, and Kane had a goal and an assist. The Blackhawks’ defensemen also were more active in the offensive zone, with Brent Seabrook scoring the winning goal.
Shortly after the series-tying victory, Quenneville still managed to poke fun at himself when asked about putting Toews and Kane together again.
“Maybe it looks like I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said with a chuckle.
The moment of levity in the middle of a taut series was a prime example of why Quenneville has been so successful in his third stint as a head coach in the NHL.
“I think he’s always been the same guy,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “I think you always know what you’re going to get with him and I think that’s probably the biggest thing for us, why we have success. He’s level-headed, brings that even-keel attitude to the team.”
The Bruins were struggling on the second night of the series when Julien put Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille and Tyler Seguin together on the same line, and they were responsible for both of Boston’s goals in a victory that gave the Bruins a split of the first two games in Chicago.
“I think Claude has always been leading the same way and kind of coaching the same way,” center Patrice Bergeron said. “I think a little adjustment during the series is a little different because you’re playing the same team over and over again. So it’s about little tweaks here and there and I think the whole coaching staff is good at that.”
Boston has made it to the playoffs in each of Julien’s six seasons in charge, and two more victories would make it two Stanley Cup titles in three seasons. It also won it all in 2011, coming back to beat Vancouver in seven games after losing the first two of the series.
The same relentless approach that helped the Bruins overcome the Canucks two years ago popped up again when they staged an improbable rally in the third period of a 5-4 victory over Toronto in Game 7 of the first round of this year’s postseason.
It’s no coincidence that the occasionally feisty Julien was behind the bench for each victory.
“I’ve always said I’ve got to be comfortable; in order to be comfortable, I’ve got to be myself,” the 53-year-old Julien said. “As a player, I felt things. As a coach, I kind of remember those things. At the same time, when you are the coach, you are the guy that gives the direction so it’s a fine line.”
Quenneville, who turns 55 in September, coached the Blackhawks to the best record in the NHL in his fifth season in Chicago. Under his leadership, the Blackhawks ended a 49-year drought when they won the Cup in 2010.
Like Julien, Quenneville’s coaching style also is influenced by his playing career.
“As a player, it’s way more fun being a player than a coach,” he said. “But at the same time, really enjoyed coaching in the different places I’ve been as a coach. I just think I’ve been fortunate to work with some great people, some great organizations. I’ve learned from some great people along the way.”
They keep tinkering, each of them, looking for any advantage they can find.
Bengals make low offer to Hawkins
Johnstown’s Andrew Hawkins grew up with the Cincinnati Bengals while following his older brother Artrell Hawkins Jr.’s NFL career.
The younger Hawkins could see himself wearing a Bengals uniform and playing wide receiver in Cincinnati for years to come. But the Bishop McCort High School graduate knows the business side of the NFL sometimes gets in the way of the storybook ending.
Liriano sharp in Pirates victory over Rays
Russell Martin homered for the third time this spring and drove in four runs to lead Francisco Liriano and the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 10-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.
Martin had an RBI single during a six-run first inning against Rays starter Matt Moore and added a three-run homer off Grant Balfour in the fourth.
McCutchen leads Pirates offense in loss to Twins
Andrew McCutchen homered, doubled and singled Friday for the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 6-5 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
McCutchen went 3 for 3, scored twice and drove in two runs. The reigning NL MVP is 8 for 11 in four games this spring.
Pirates, Jays rained out
The Toronto Blue Jays' spring training game at the Pittsburgh Pirates was rained out Thursday.
The game will not be made up.
Pirates rough up Blue Jays’ Morrow
Brandon Morrow allowed five runs and six hits over three innings in the Toronto Blue Jays’ 6-4 loss Wednesday to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Morrow was making his second appearance since a season-ending forearm injury last May. On Feb. 28, the right-hander gave up two hits and one run in two relief innings.
Steelers sign Polamalu, cut Foote
Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller are doing their part to help the Pittsburgh Steelers get under the 2014 salary cap.
The eight-time Pro Bowl safety and the venerable tight end both signed new three-year contracts with the team on Wednesday designed to give the Steelers some cap relief before the new league year begins next week.
Pens pick up pair of forwards
The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t go for the big splash at the trade deadline this time.
General manager Ray Shero believes the little ripples his team made instead can be just as effective as the franchise pursues its fourth Stanley Cup.
Penguins snap out of slump
Matt Niskanen scored his second goal of the game 7:29 into the third period, and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Nashville Predators 3-1 on Tuesday night to snap a three-game skid.
Niskanen and the Penguins helped ruin the return of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne in his first game since Oct. 22 following an E. coli infection in his surgically repaired left hip.
Morton throws three scoreless innings in Pirates victory
Charlie Morton allowed one hit in three scoreless innings, helping the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 5-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.
Morton did not strike out a batter, but he kept Detroit off the bases during his short stint, aside from Don Kelly’s second-inning double.
Alvarez, Martin hit two-run shots in Bucs’ win
Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin hit two-run homers off Brandon Workman, who started in place of injured Jake Peavy, and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Boston Red Sox 7-6 Monday.
Pittsburgh leadoff batter Starling Marte reached on an infield single in the first that stopped an 0-for-9 start, and Alvarez homered to right off Workman with two outs.
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