Interim coach Bruce Cassidy facing a major challenge to get the Boston Bruins back into the playoffs

BOSTON -- Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has a plan for the future, and it no longer includes coach Claude Julien, who was fired on Tuesday after 10 seasons and a Stanley Cup championship with the organization.

When Sweeney examined the direction of the organization, he felt it was best to make a coaching change. He met with Julien Tuesday morning and told him of the decision. Sweeney described it as the beginning of an evaluation period for the entire organization. Associate coach Bruce Cassidy was promoted to replace Julien for the remainder of the season.

In the locker room after practice on Tuesday, there was a sense of frustration and disappointment. The players, especially those remaining from the core that won the 2011 Stanley Cup, enjoyed playing for Julien, and they also know the firing is on them.

"My job now is to get their heads focused on playing and playing well," Cassidy said, "and that begins today and our first game on Thursday against San Jose.

"Hopefully there's that mutual respect between player and coach that I have right out of the gate because I've been there with them and not being a new face coming in off the street."

Now in his ninth season with the organization -- in addition to this being his first behind the Bruins' bench, he also spent eight with the Providence Bruins as an assistant and head coach -- Cassidy, 51, has a major challenge in front of him.

"Coaches become a scapegoat at times, but because it happens, we can't take it back," said Bruins forward Brad Marchand. "I hope it does wake the team up and we start playing better and realize we're in a tough spot right now and we need to be better. The expectations are there and at times it can create a spark, and that's what we're looking for.

"We need more out of more guys -- there's no question about that. We need guys to step up and start playing better. There doesn't seem to be that urgency in the room that we're fighting for our lives right now. You look at the games in hand and we could be in a real tough spot in a few games, so we just need more out of more guys. We need more urgency. We need guys to care a little bit more. We all need to play better as a group. We're inconsistent right now and that's unacceptable this time of year. It's unacceptable in this organization and that's why there are changes being made because we're expected to win. That's our culture here and we've got to get back to that."

With Julien gone and Cassidy in place as coach for at least the remainder of the season, the responsibility for results now falls on Sweeney and team president Cam Neely.

"There's an opportunity for a new set of eyes to come in, and a new voice for our players to start to hear, and hopefully their ears are perked up," Sweeney said.

After replacing Peter Chiarelli as GM two seasons ago, Sweeney's plan was to continue to rebuild the prospect pool and develop those players into full-time NHLers. Even though the Bruins have missed the playoffs the last two seasons, and continue to play inconsistently, Sweeney will not deviate from his plan of integrating younger players, which is where he differed with Julien.

"I feel the heat every day," Sweeney said. "I have expectations for myself to continue. I set out a plan in place that I would address some areas of need in the organization and I'm trying to do that and trying to win. I don't accept losing. If I fail, or if I have shortcomings, then I'll walk out the door and say, 'I gave it my absolute best.' "

Sweeney said he will begin interviewing candidates for the job, and that will include Cassidy. Sweeney said a decision about who will coach will be made this summer.

Sweeney said he hasn't decided whether he'll be a buyer or a seller heading toward the March 1 trade deadline. The Bruins are slipping in and out of the playoff race, and the teams they're battling with have games in hand. Games against the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens should give Sweeney, along with Neely and ownership, a better understanding of this team's chances of making the postseason.

"Do I think we have an opportunity to make the playoffs? Absolutely," Sweeney said. "There's no question this group has a chance to get in. Whether or not I can find a player between now and the deadline that fills one of those gaps does remain to be seen, but it dovetails with the fact that I'm not going to be shortsighted. I'm going to stick to the longer-term view that I have put in place."

The Bruins need to acquire a player who fits into the long-term plan and not a rental, which was the route the organization took last season. A major need is a backup goalie: Tuukka Rask shouldn't be relied on to play 70 games again this season. Although he said he's up for the workload, it's not fair, or conducive for success for him to play that many games.

From an X's and O's standpoint, Cassidy said he wants to have a more intense pace during practices. The biggest issues for the Bruins are scoring goals and keeping the puck out of their own net. Cassidy said he will tweak the defensive-zone coverage and breakouts. He wants more secondary scoring and wants more offensive contributions from the defensemen.

"I've been put into a position to be the head coach of an NHL hockey team, so I have no complaints," Cassidy said. "I'm going to relish the opportunity, to be perfectly honest with you."

The Bruins have 27 games remaining in the regular season and the players hope their season turns around.

"I hope it does," said alternate captain Patrice Bergeron. "At the end of the day, it falls back on the players. We're the ones not executing on the ice and hopefully we have to realize [a coaching change] isn't going to fix everything. We have to go out there and do the job and be better as a whole.

"I like our team. I like the way we're built. We've obviously underachieved. We have to go out there and realize what needs to change and be better. We have to move forward. We have to concentrate on the next game and go from there."