Bruins

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

Rask recovering from concussion, may be ready to play on Saturday

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Rask recovering from concussion, may be ready to play on Saturday

BRIGHTON -- Tuukka Rask is quickly making his way through the concussion protocol and may return to action this weekend.

The Bruins netminder skated with the other injured players ahead of Monday’s main team practice at Warrior Ice Arena, and is on track to rejoin the team at regular practice on Tuesday barring any setbacks in his concussion recovery. That would leave Rask with just a couple of games missed after getting trucked by Anders Bjork at practice last week, and it would give the Bruins back their No. 1 goaltender after Anton Khudobin let in five goals vs. the Sabres on Thursday night.

“He’s in the protocol and progressing well,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’ll probably join us [on Tuesday] for the next step if there are no ill effects from today. That’s a positive. If there are no setbacks, I think Saturday is a more realistic [timetable for a return].”

The hope would be that Rask could start elevating his game when he does return, and play better than the goalie that’s posted the 1-3-0 record, 3.30 goals against average and .882 save percentage thus far this season. But first things first with the recovery to his first career concussion as an NHL goalie, and the set of hurdles that must be passed before Rask is again allowed to jump back into game action as early as this weekend.

Here are the line combos and D-pairings from Bruins practice with Rask, David Krejci and Noel Acciari all skating prior to practice, Patrice Bergeron staying off ice with a maintenance day and Kevan Miller skating in main practice with a maroon, no-contact jersey:

Marchand-Schaller-Bjork
DeBrusk-Backes-Pastrnak
Agostino-Nash-White
Beleskey-Kuraly-Vatrano

Chara-McAvoy
Krug-Carlo
Miller-Postma

Khudobin

Schaller's sterling play helping to ease Bruins' pain

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Schaller's sterling play helping to ease Bruins' pain

BRIGHTON -- Injuries, and some really tough losses, have put a bit of a damper on the start to the Bruins season. But there've also been a couple of unquestioned bright spots.

And one of them is Tim Schaller, who's been a strong, consistent performer in the first couple of weeks of the season. The New Hampshire native -- and lifelong Bruins fan -- was penciled in as a fourth-line winger throughout most of training camp, but he’s played everywhere as injuries have ravaged the B's roster.

The high point was probably centering Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak (and notching an assist) in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Sabres, and filling in for a late-scratched David Krejci with a very different set of skills. Certainly he’s been a standout for the Bruins with his physicality, including stepping up and fighting man mountain Erik Gudbranson after Gudbranson's nasty boarding hit on Frank Vatrano last week, and he’s also kicked in a couple of goals and three points in seven games thus far this season.

“It’s a reactionary thing, and that’s just in a person,” said Bruce Cassidy of fighting Gudbranson. “It’s a character thing because you don’t have a lot of time to think about it. Good for Timmy. That earns a lot of street cred not only in your own locker room, but the other teams notice it. too.

"We know with the goals that he can obviously chip in [offensively] and he’s doing a great job for what we’re asking him to do. He’s probably going to take ownership if he’s out there with some young guys on a line, and if he can be a leader and get that line playing the right way every night that is very valuable to us.”

Schaller’s game to this point is a continuation of what he showed in his first season with the Bruins last year, when the 26-year-old posted 7 goals and 14 points in 59 games while becoming a staple in Boston’s bottom-6 group. He’s once again shown pretty good straight-ahead speed for a big man, and a willingness to take his 6-foot-2, 219-pound frame straight to the net.

“I’ve been moving well and I’ve got the two goals, so personally I’m happy [with my game],” said Schaller. “Hopefully others can feed off what I’m trying to do out there, and we get a more well-balanced game [as a team]. I had a good season last year, and what was really good was that I knew that I had more to give. That’s what I’m trying to do this season.

“I can obviously produce more. I had a good start to last season and then I kind of fell off a little bit. So hopefully I can be a little more consistent for this entire year.”

That would be a very good thing for a Bruins team that can use him in a bottom-6 energy role when its roster is healthy, and will fully utilize his versatility in times of injuries and adversity.