There's no missing the point(s)

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There's no missing the point(s)

By Michael Felger

Should we care where the Bruins finish in the Eastern Conference? I mean, really. It's hockey, right? What's the difference? The playoffs are the ultimate crap shoot. It's about momentum and hot goalies. Seedings don't matter. Home ice doesn't matter. Regular season records don't matter.

Right?

Well, not exactly.

Take a look at the last decade of Stanley Cup Finals.

2010 -- No. 2 Chicago over No. 7 Philadelphia
2009 -- No. 4 Pittsburgh over No. 2 Detroit
2008 -- No. 1 Detroit over No. 2 Pittsburgh
2007 -- No. 2 Anaheim over No. 4 Ottawa
2006 -- No. 2 Carolina over No. 8 Edmonton
2005 -- Lockout.
2004 -- No. 1 Tampa Bay over No. 6 Calgary
2003 -- No. 2 New Jersey over No. 7 Anaheim
2002 -- No. 1 Detroit over No. 3 Carolina
2001 -- No. 1 Colorado over No. 1 New Jersey

Nine seasons, eight different champions, eight years where either a first or second seed won the Cup. Surprising, right?

The list shows that the NHL may be a little more like the NBA than us hockey snobs care to admit.

Yes, unlike in basketball, you can emerge from the bottom of the NHL playoff seedings and actually do something. You can knock on the door of a championship -- as the 2010 Flyers, 2006 Oilers and 2003 Ducks would attest. And there's certainly a better variety of teams in the Finals from year to year. It's what makes the NHL playoffs infinitely more entertaining than the NBA version, where upsets rarely happen.

But, eventually, the result usually ends up the same in both sports. In the end, a team that established itself as one of the best during the regular season will prevail in the Finals.

Over the past decade, only one NHL team has emerged from "the pack" to win a Stanley Cup championship -- the 2008-09 Penguins, who featured Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and Marc-Andre Fleury. Hardly the little engine that could.

Obviously, seedings don't guarantee you a thing. Recent history is littered with failed No. 1s and 2s (hello, Washington and San Jose . . . and Boston, for that matter). If the B's finish this season with 105 points to earn the No. 2 seed as opposed to finishing with 103 points to earn a three seed -- does it really matter? It's hard to imagine it would.

Yet, for whatever it's worth, history says otherwise. It's interesting to note that over the last decade, no No. 3 seed has won a Cup. Only once did a No. 3 even make the finals (the 2002 Hurricanes). Again, that may be a statistical oddity. Or it may be an indication that winning a crappy division gets you nothing.

If I were the Bruins I'd want to avoid the No. 3 seed because it could very well mean a first-round date with the Canadiens. Call me a scaredy cat, but I'd just as soon avoid them. Too much baggage. Too much hate. Even in victory, a series with the Habs would take a chunk out of the B's.

Besides, it's just a bad matchup. The B's bloody, 8-6 win over them last month was just their second victory over Montreal in 10 tries. Tim Thomas, for some reason, has problems with them. He's 9-18 with a 3.16 goals-against average lifetime against Montreal, the highest GAA he has against any opponent. It's even worse this year, as Thomas' 4.28 GAA against the Habs is over two goals higher than his GAA against everyone else. It will be interesting to see how he looks in the final regular-season matchup Tuesday night in Montreal.

As dawn breaks Monday morning, the Bruins find themselves sitting at the No. 2 position in the Eastern Conference with 84 points. They're two behind Philadelphia for the No. 1 seed and two points ahead of third-seed Washington with a game in hand against the Caps. The B's have 17 games left to play. The Habs appear destined to finish no lower than sixth.

You may not think that two points here or there could make a difference, and that's certainly the conventional wisdom. After all, it's just hockey, where the playoffs are supposed to be nothing more than a roll of the dice.

But call me crazy. I'll be watching the standings the rest of the way.
E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Reports: Blues trade Kevin Shattenkirk to Capitals

Reports: Blues trade Kevin Shattenkirk to Capitals

The Kevin Shattenkirk-to-Bruins rumblings are done for the remainder of the season.

Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Dispatch is reporting that the Blues have traded defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals.

According to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, the “main parts” the Blues will receive in the deal are 2017 first-rounder, a second-rounder in 2018 and Zach Sanford 

More to come. . . 

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.