B's need a new system for playoffs

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B's need a new system for playoffs

By Michael Felger
CSNNE.com Columnist

When it comes to the Bruins playoff chances, what does it mean that Tim Thomas just set the NHL record for save percentage in a season? What does it mean that he led the league in goals-against average? What does it mean that well all give him the checkmark over Montreals Carey Price this week?

Unfortunately for Bruins fans, the answer by now is well-known.

Nothing.

You see, the Bruins have had the best regular-season goaltending in the league for three years running. Thomas daily double in 2010-11 (league-best GAA of 2.00 and save percentage of .938) sounds impressive until you consider that Tuukka Rask did the exact same thing last year (1.97 GAA, .931 save pct.) and Thomas did the exact same thing the year before that (2.10 GAA, .933 save pct.).

To repeat, Bruins goaltenders have had the leagues best goals-against average and save percentage for three consecutive years. No ones been better.

And they still havent gotten out of the second round.

Don't you get it by now? Between Claude Julien's measured, stay-at-home system and Zdeno Chara's presence on the blue line, it's almost impossible for a Bruins goalie NOT to have great numbers. The Bs have proven beyond a doubt that they can keep the puck out of the net over 82 regular-season games.

But when the bullets fly for real?

Not so much.

To be fair, this is hardly a Bruins issue. As my buddy DJ Bean has pointed out, Vezina Trophies just dont translate into championships. In fact, since 1988, only two Vezina winners have gone on to win the Cup (Grant Fuhr and Martin Brodeur).

This is another case of conventional wisdom run amok. People who dont know the game say that playoff hockey is all about the goalies but its just not the case. If it were, then the Flyers, who were on their third goalie by the middle of the second round last year, wouldnt have made it to the Finals and the Bruins would be able hang more than division championship banners every year.

The playoffs are different. They just are. Systems break down. The best players elevate. The teams with the best combination of skill and guts (and the goaltending good enough to compliment those two things) advance. Great systems and great goalies can only take you so far. Yes, the trap-heavy Devils won three Cups in front of Brodeur, but those teams were the exception.

And that's where we remain stuck with the Bruins. They should have beaten Carolina in the second round two years ago. They should have advanced past Philadelphia last year. They had the system and the goaltending to do it.

But they didn't know how to win. They didn't have the nerve. And when it mattered most, they didnt have the skill.

Thomas deserves all the credit in the world for setting the save percentage record. Bruins fans should feel good about him between the pipes as we head into another blood feud with Montreal. And let's raise a banner for Julien for another great goals-against mark.

But until the B's prove they have enough players who can put the puck in the net when it counts, their great goaltending numbers will remain nice to look at and nothing more.

Sort of like those old division banners.

E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Morning Skate: Brian Boyle embroiled in trade rumors

Morning Skate: Brian Boyle embroiled in trade rumors

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while enjoying Hockey Day in America. 

*Brian Boyle is the subject of trade rumors with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he wants to stay a member of the Bolts. 

*Watch out for the Florida Panthers, who swept the road trip through California and are now back in playoff position for the first time in a long time. 

*It’s great to see play-by-play man Dave Strader back in the broadcast booth doing what he does best after his cancer diagnosis. 

*Hats off to the Bruins ECHL affiliate, the Atlanta Gladiators, for the sweet-looking Boba Fett sweaters worn during this weekend’s Star Wars night. 

*It’s pretty amazing when you’re an NHL player and a former first round pick, and you’re the one most known for being somebody else’s brother. That’s life for Dallas Stars D-man Jamie Oleksiak. 

*Interesting piece about sportswriting, politics and a couple of worlds that were destined to collide at some point. 

*For something completely different: For the 40h anniversary of Star Wars, the toys are being used to recreate classic movie scenes. 

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons.