BOSTON -- Bill Belichick has made a Hall-of-Fame-worthy coaching career out of sweating the details in situational football. But sometimes, things beyond ordinary circumstances crop up. And when those situations arise, a coach has to think on his feet.
Case in point was Claude Julien's handling of a critical 5-on-3 penalty kill during the second period of the Bruins' 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.
With Patrice Bergeron in the bin for a cross-checking minor, Gregory Campbell soon followed with a double-minor for high-sticking at 9:40 of the second. The B's had to brave it out for a minute and 49 seconds without two stalwarts of the PK unit, nursing a one-goal lead.
Factor in the already depleted depth of the team's usual cast of penalty-killers, with both Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille on the shelf due to injuries, and Julien was left with only so many options at forward in a make-or-break juncture of the game.
While also using David Krejci and rookie center Ryan Spooner as the lone forward on the unit, Julien looked down the bench to defenseman Torey Krug to fill in for a spell during the two-man advantage.
"You have to be ready for those types of things," Julien said. "I don't think you can necessarily be prepared for a 5-on-3 with two of our top centermen that kill those 5-on-3s in the penalty box, but you have to react quick and make that decision."
Krug was on the ice for only about 20 seconds of the 5-on-3 play, but the offensive-minded blueliner was able to utilize some of his insight from running the point on the opposite side to help his team shut out Buffalo on the man-up bid.
The Bruins also had a successful kill of Buffalo's abbreviated 5-on-3 power-play chance midway through the third period.
"Obviously, we watch videos on other teams and see what their tendencies are," Krug said. "At the same time, 5-on-3 hockey is simple. It's good for me because I look at it from an offensive standpoint and I look to see where they're going to take chances. And when you get thrown out as a defensive player, you try to take that away."
Julien explained his off-the-cuff decision by saying he saw Krug fitting the mantra of his most successful penalty killers up top. Working the top of the triangle in such a situation calls for both speed and grit.
"We want guys who are smart and quick up top, when those guys were in the box and they did a good job," Julien said. "You have to ad-lib every once in a while and be creative, and that's what we did."
The move took goaltender Tuukka Rask (34 saves) aback.
"I saw we had three D's out there, I don't know if we wanted it like that or not, but it paid off," Rask said. "It worked out well."
While Bergeron was in unfamiliar territory, taking a bystander's view of the PK unit, he found Julien's ingenuity to fall in line with the team's next-man-up mentality. With the Bruins struggling with a nasty case of the injury bug, that prevailing logic has held up.
Not only that, they've prospered. The Bruins are undefeated in regulation in their last 14 tilts (12-0-2) at the Garden.
"We have a system we believe in and they did a great job," Bergeron said.
But at times, you just have to make it up on the fly.
"You have to go with what your gut feeling is telling you at that time," Julien said.