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Associated Press
Apr 4, 2007, 6:49 PM EDT


NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -Claude Julien was as surprised as anyone when he was fired as the New Jersey Devils coach 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 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 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 stretch, losing seven of their first 10 games in March. New Jersey has won five of its last six games since then, including Tuesday night'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 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 at home 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.

Forwards John Madden and Patrik Elias were also sidelined with groin injuries but have returned to the lineup, though forward Scott Gomez is nursing a leg injury. Julien said the team was starting to regain its form in time for the playoffs.

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Well if Devils don't easily go through 1st round and probably as said, go to the 3rd round, some questions have to be answered or Lou needs to remove himself as GM.
 
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