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.

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.