Countdown to Game 7: Can you feel the hurt?

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Countdown to Game 7: Can you feel the hurt?

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

You go into a Game 7 and, on the surface, things are even.

Both the Bruins and Lightning have won three games. The best-educated guess for Friday's finale is a coin flip.

But this series doesn't feel even.

Say what you want about the behavior of Bruins fans -- and I know it ain't always pretty -- but you can't say Tampa's crowd can relate. The most diehard, crazy, obsessed worshipper of the Bolts has ridden the wave for 19 years. In Boston, 19 years of fandom is a blink. There are people here who have season tickets, rabid-bear tattoos, and Bulldogs named P.J. Stock, and who would get kicked out of Sully's if they were unable to name the entire 1972 Stanley Cup roster.

And a lot of what they've endured is really, really awful.

One playoff series win from 1995 to 2009. Zero Conference finals bids since 1992. Zero Stanley Cup Finals appearances since 1990. And then there's that 39-year monster: The Cup Drought.

It tests the heartiest of fans. And it's a trial that Tampa supporters -- no matter how loyal -- can't understand. No offense intended; it's just fact. It's history.

And that's why Boston bears the heavier load tonight.

What happens if the Lightning lose? Is Guy Boucher's job in jeopardy? No. The 2010-11 NHL season was Boucher's first as a head coach. His team compiled a 46-25-11 record for the second best record in the Southeast division. The finish is dead-on for NHL's preseason estimates; the Conference Finals run exceeds expectations. The only thing Boucher has to worry about is whatever sliced his face.

And what of the fans? Will they dissolve into bitterness and cynicism? Probably not. Tampa's championship drought is more like a dry spell: Seven years. That's all. Not even one full decade of Cupless hockey. What kind of suffering is that? Not the kind that makes a fan feel jaded or hopeless. It's not the kind of franchise failure that puts a coach under the gun.

Not the way Claude Julien is.

Julien is in his eighth season as an NHL bench boss. He's won more games than he's lost (298-189-69), which is good. He's also been fired twice -- midseason by Montreal and after one year with New Jersey -- which is bad. Look at Julien's resume and you'll see a lot of red: Missed playoffs. Lost in second round. Lost in first round. Lost in second round.

Going into tonight, something else stands out: Game 7 loss to Philadelphia, Game 7 loss to Carolina, Game 7 loss to Montreal.

There is a win atop the pile, thanks to Boston's first-round bout with the Canadiens this season. No matter where you were in New England you could hear Julien's sigh of relief when the final horn sounded. But it's turned out to be like dodging a bullet only to duck into a whole new line of fire. What happens if the Bruins lose this one? Which Game 7 result do you think will matter more to the brass?

Exactly. More pressure.

Mathematics tell us that we are again at 50-50 odds. But add Boston's frustrating, fruitless history into the equation and the series doesn't feel even. Not at all.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

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Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wishing everybody a safe and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. 

*Apparently Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette has yet to try Nashville’s hot chicken despite his time behind the Preds bench. It’s okay, I have yet to try it either in my handful of visits to Music City. 

*Good stuff from PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough. Apparently it wasn’t so easy to make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed when it came time for director Doug Liman to cut Swingers together

*Sidney Crosby cares about the history and the issues of the game, and has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation despite the hate that always comes with such responsibility. 

*Puck Daddy examines Crosby’s performance in the playoffs, and the odds of him winning another Conn Smythe Trophy. 

*The Penguins have made it to the Stanley Cup Final without Kris Letang for their playoff run, and that’s an amazing accomplishment. 

*Erik Karlsson said that he will be tending to his injured foot next week, and expects a full recovery for next season after a brilliant run with his Ottawa Senators

*Larry Brooks again rails against the Stanley Cup playoff structure and it’s relation to an “absurd regular season.” Say what you will, but the fact the Penguins are there for a second straight season shoots down some of the absurdity stuff in my mind. The best team from the East is where they should be and they did it without Kris Letang to boot. 

*Chicago Blackhawks prospect Alex Debrincat is confident his abilities will translate to the NHL despite his size after taking home honors as the best player in junior hockey this season. 

*For something completely different: Apparently there’s a hard core comic book geek gripe that “The Flash” is burning through bad guys too quickly. This would make sense if they couldn’t revisit these bad guys at any point, but they absolutely can go back to a big bad like Grodd anytime they want. 

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

It was the longest run that the P-Bruins have had in a few years and another unmistakable sign that the future is brightening for the Black and Gold, but the Bruins AHL affiliate has ended their playoff push in the Calder Cup semi-finals. 

The Providence Bruins fell by a 3-1 score to the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday night to lose to the Crunch in five games when the best-of-seven series was set to return to Providence this coming week. The P-Bruins had vanquished the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears in the first two rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs before finally exiting against Syracuse. 

Though it’s over, it’s clear some of the Bruins prospects made a nice step forward over the second half of the AHL season and then into the Calder Cup playoffs. With the Calder Cup Finals yet to start, B’s forward prospect Danton Heinen stands as the second-leading playoff scorer in the entire AHL with nine goals and 18 points in 17 playoff games after really struggling in the first half of his first pro season while bouncing back and forth between the NHL and the AHL. 

This could bode well for the skilled Heinen and his hopes to make the leap to the NHL in the near future after a stellar collegiate career at the University of Denver. AHL journeymen-types Wayne Simpson and Jordan Szwarz were the next two top scorers for the P-Bruins in the playoff run, but Jake DeBrusk had a strong playoff season as well while popping in six goals in 17 games. DeBrusk led all Providence players with his 54 shots on net in the 17-game playoff run for Providence, and he headlined a group that included B’s prospects Ryan Fitzgerald, Zach Senyshyn, Matt Grzelcyk, Peter Cehlarik (who succumbed to shoulder surgery during the playoffs), Emil Johansson and Robbie O’Gara all getting some vital playoff experience. 

Both Heinen and DeBrusk will be strong candidates for jobs on the wing with the Boston big club when training camp opens in the fall after strong showings in the postseason. 

On the goaltending side, Zane McIntyre was solid for the P-Bruins at times while in 16 of their 17 playoff games with a .906 save percentage. But it was Malcolm Subban that was playing at the very end of the playoff run for Providence and featured a sterling .937 save percentage in the four AHL playoff games that he appeared in this spring after an up-and-down regular season. McIntyre had an .857 save percentage and 4.37 goals against average in the final series against Syracuse, and looked a little spent like many of the other P-Bruins players once they’d unexpectedly made it to the third round of the AHL postseason.  

The only unfortunate part of Providence’s run is that newly signed youngsters Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson couldn’t be a part of it after signing and then appearing in NHL games following a cut-off date for AHL playoff rosters. Both missed on an experience that could have been very conducive for their professional development, and uncovered a wrinkle in the NHL/AHL transaction process that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a developmental league.