Fri, Apr 06, 2007 - Page 23 News List

Jersey Devils spring nasty surprise on coach

AP , NEWARK, NEW JERSEY

Claude Julien was as surprised as anyone when he was fired as the New Jersey Devils coach on Monday.

In his first public comments since being removed, Julien said he wasn't expecting to be fired because only three games remained in the NHL regular season and his team was in first place and primed for the playoffs.

"You're thinking you're going to be heading into the playoffs and you're getting mentally prepared for that," Julien said in a teleconference on Wednesday. "You don't want to be let go with three games left in the season, but at the same time, everybody has a job to do, and that's a part of the game you have to understand."

Julien's firing stunned Devils players as well, even though the team had gone through a rough period, losing seven of their first 10 games in March. New Jersey has won five of its last six games since then, including Tuesday's 2-1 win over Ottawa in general manager Lou Lamoriello's first game behind the bench.

Julien didn't criticize Lamoriello, who told reporters on Monday that he made the 11th-hour change because he felt the team lacked focus and wasn't mentally or physically ready for the playoffs.

"As coach, sometimes you make decisions that are tough to understand but are for the good of the hockey club," Julien said. "In Lou's mind, he really thought that was the best decision for the hockey club, and I have to respect that."

The firing came a day after the Devils regained first place in the Atlantic Division with a 3-1 win against Boston. Winger Brian Gionta, last season's leading scorer, made his return in that game after missing 19 of the team's previous 21 games with a groin injury.

Although he acknowledged that the firing hurt him on a personal as well as professional level, Julien said he had no regrets about coming to the Devils last June and that in general he had been treated well by Lamoriello.

Before coming to the Devils, Julien was fired by the Montreal Canadiens midway through the 2005-'06 season with a 19-6-16 record. He led the Canadiens to the Eastern semi-finals in 2004.

Lamoriello has moved behind the bench for the second straight year, although he said he did not plan to coach the team again next season.

Capitals 3, Thrashers 2

Alex Ovechkin scored two second-period goals for eight in four games in Atlanta this season, and the Washington Capitals beat the Thrashers 3-2 in the NHL on Wednesday.

Washington's Brent Johnson gave up a goal to Ilya Kovalchuk about one minute into the game, but allowed only one more, to Andy Sutton late in the game.

Johnson stopped 30 shots and survived an Atlanta power play for the final 1:30, including a two-man advantage for the final 44.6 seconds.

Sharks 3, Ducks 2, SO

At Anaheim, California, Scott Hannan and Steve Bernier tied the score with second-period goals, and San Jose got goals from Jonathan Cheechoo and Ryane Clowe in a shootout to beat Anaheim.

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