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

Bruins assign Noel Acciari to Providence

Bruins assign Noel Acciari to Providence

After sitting out the last month with a lower body injury, Bruins fourth liner Noel Acciari has been assigned to Providence presumably to get up to speed after missing a considerable length of time. It also means that Acciari has likely been cleared medically to play after appearing in B's practice over the last few days after missing the last 14 games. 

The 24-year-old former Providence College standout has appeared in 12 games with the Bruins this season after breaking camp with the team, and recorded two assists for two points with four penalty minutes and a plus-one rating before suffering a lower body injury.

By all accounts Acciari was a good energy player on a surprisingly good fourth line to start the season, wasn’t afraid to throw around his body for impactful hits and was having plenty of success aggravating opponents into losing their cool and taking penalties. Fellow rookie forward Anton Blidh has stepped in and played a similar role on the fourth line over the last couple of games for the Black and Gold, so that gives the Bruins plenty of time to get Acciari back up to speed at the AHL level without their fourth line’s level of play dropping in the meantime.

The Acciari demotion to Providence does mean that the Bruins head into Washington with 12 forwards, so it should again be Blidh, Dominic Moore and Jimmy Hayes as the fourth line barring any last minute wrinkles from Claude Julien.