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Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien gestures as he calls in a play during hockey practice in Wilmington, Mass., Tuesday, April 12, 2011. The Bruins will face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the NHL hockey playoffs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) (Charles Krupa)
Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien gestures as he calls in a play during hockey practice in Wilmington, Mass., Tuesday, April 12, 2011. The Bruins will face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the NHL hockey playoffs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) (Charles Krupa)

Roy MacGregor

Habs-Bruins: The battle behind the bench Add to ...

No one knows what the Royal Jelly is in coaching.

Scotty Bowman has so many Stanley Cup rings he has to wear some on his toes, but he couldn't tell you what the magic is - and even if he tried you probably couldn't follow him.

"If your good players don't play to the best of their ability," Paul Holmgren said after the Philadelphia Flyers fired him for failing to capture a Stanley Cup, "I don't give a damn if you're Toe Blake, you're not going to win."

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Neither Claude Julien nor Jacques Martin is Toe Blake - but one coach will ride his team to victory once Round One gets under way here Thursday between Julien's Boston Bruins and Martin's Montreal Canadiens.

They share remarkably similar backgrounds: Both Franco-Ontarians from small Eastern Ontario towns, both slogged their way up through the junior ranks - Martin beginning with the Peterborough Petes, Julien with the Hull Olympiques - and both have been known to cringe at the sight of drop passes and end-to-end rushes by uncontrollable defencemen.

Julien, 50, and Martin, 58, are also both recognized as excellent coaches - fine tacticians, great teachers - but also seen, much to their own annoyance, as coaches who cannot take a team to that next necessary level that is championship hockey.

It may be an unfair rap, but it exists nonetheless. They carry doubts with them as well as systems. They are seen as suppressers more so than enablers. They are regarded in the mould of the stultifying New Jersey Devils - trap and wait - rather than carpe diem coaches who will unleash the creative and damn the torpedoes as they go for broke when such action might at times be required.

Julien's one great victory was in junior hockey: a Memorial Cup in 1997. He once coached Montreal but could reach only the second round of the playoffs and was fired in early 2006 by general manager Bob Gainey. He coached the Devils and, bizarrely, was fired by general manager Lou Lamoriello on the eve of the playoffs after a fabulous year - Lamoriello claiming the team was not playoff ready. He has coached Boston since 2007 and good years have been followed by playoff disappointment, the worst coming a year ago when the Philadelphia Flyers accomplished the impossible by coming back from being down three games to none to Julien's Bruins.

Jacques Martin is said to have once held a Stanley Cup team in the palm of his hand, the 2002-2003 Ottawa Senators, But they could not get past the conference finals and he was fired the following year. He went to Florida to coach and missed the playoffs three straight years. Last year he - some would say goaltender Jaroslav Halak - took the Canadiens to the conference final, a remarkable feat that only served to whet the appetite in Montreal for more and better.

The doubts rose up Tuesday in the Boston suburb of Wilmington when Julien, following practice, saw the questioning drift from the readiness of goaltender Tim Thomas to his own readiness - and, by extension, his own future.

"I'm coaching just like every other year," he told the gathered media. "You don't come in here worrying about yourself. You come in here worrying about winning the Stanley Cup."

But that, he was reminded, is exactly the point - can he take them all the way?

"It's not all about the coach," Julien countered. "You have to expect that your players are professional enough that they know what it takes and they know how to prepare. As a coach, all you can do is make that preparation as good as you can get it. But at the end of the day when the puck is dropped, they're the ones that are performing.

"I'm not putting all the onus on them, but this is where good playoff teams and teams that win [when]players really have the right mind set. I feel our team really does, and now it's up to them to prove it."

Pressed further, he denied that this spring was different, that this spring was about his performance as well as the team's performance, and that he, in effect is coaching for his job.

"Not at all," he argued.

"…It's not even in the back of my mind."

Perhaps not, yet if Julien's team fails to perform up to expectations, or if Martin's team fails to play as it can on the best of nights, it will jump to the front of the minds of those who cannot quell those doubts.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

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