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.

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

BOSTON – The Bruins didn’t show anything on the ice in Monday afternoon’s 4-0 matinee loss, and that’s not really any kind of an overstatement.

The scoring chances were almost nonexistent despite 32 shots on net, the second period was dreadful as the Bruins gave up three goals over the course of a six minute span and there was zero added urgency in the third period once the B’s fell behind. The emotion was missing from the drop of the puck to open the game and it never showed up once the Islanders began taking control of the game.

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It was a bitterly disappointing result after the Black and Gold had played so well in their previous five games, and put in strong, winning efforts against the Panthers, Blues and Flyers.

On Monday afternoon, the passes were sloppy and errant all over the ice, there was zero physicality and the Bruins buckled once the Isles turned the intensity up just a little bit in the second period. The game was basically over once Nikolay Kulemin snapped one home wide open from the slot area with Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and David Krejci all blowing their defensive assignments, and then Tuukka Rask followed it up by allowing a softie to Josh Bailey from a bad angle close to net.  

So Bruins head coach Claude Julien termed it a “flat” performance once it was all over with, and openly wondered whether it was fatigue-related result linked to the compacted schedule Boston has played through this season. Monday marked the seventh straight day that the Bruins held some kind of formal skate, though most of the veteran B's players stayed off the ice during last week's Wednesday off-day practice in Nashville.   

“We were flat tonight, obviously, flat from the get-go. I think that first half of the game, we didn’t give much until they scored that first goal. We were able to stay in, but we certainly weren’t generating much ourselves, from that point of view,” said Claude Julien. “His is really the first year, for me as well, going through a condensed schedule, and I’m certainly not using that as an excuse, is it fatigue?. . . But we were flat tonight. How do you explain it? I don’t know. I know that it’s frustrating. I know that it’s disappointing. That’s all I can say.

“Whether it’s mental fatigue, whatever it is. We made some mistakes tonight like, from the goals you look at, we weren’t even in the position that we’re normally in. So we were totally out of whack, as far as even defending. When you give that first goal that much room in the middle of the ice, your D’s go on the wrong side, your weak-side forward is way on the other side, and you open up the slot area, that’s something I haven’t seen much of this year. I think it said a lot from our game tonight.”

The compacted schedule certainly could be a factor for a Bruins team that’s played more games than anybody else in the Eastern Conference to this point, but the B’s also had 48 hours to recharge after winning a Saturday matinee over the Flyers. So the fatigue excuse seems a little far-fetched for a hockey club that’s no-showed a few too many times this season, and did it again on Monday afternoon against one of the worst teams in the NHL.