By Jim Kelley
May 14, 2009

When sports media types don't have a clue as to which team is going to win the seventh game of a series, we go to the books. We look up how many Game 7s a team has won in its history, as if some triumph or failure 40 years ago could possibly have a bearing on the outcome. We trot out the importance of home-ice advantage knowing full well that the pressure to perform on home ice can be terrifying and overwhelming to the home team.

When those fail, we turn to the "best team wins" cliché, a premise based on the idea that it usually prevails even if its opponent got timely breaks, benefited from controversial calls or lucked out via a goal that went in off someone's backside.

All of the above makes for a problem when predicting the outcome of tonight's Bruins-Hurricanes showdown in Boston. The reason is that nothing has held to form in this series.

Carolina has a history of winning seventh games and playing below expectations, a fact in evidence given that they had a three-games-to-one lead in this series and failed to close it out in Boston or in what should have been the deciding Game 6 on home ice.

And while it's true the Bruins have a dismal history in Game 7's, Don Cherry's inability to count the number of players he put on the ice 30 some years ago is not going to have any impact on an American-born goalie (Tim Thomas) who cut his playoff teeth in Finland, or a play-making center (Marc Savard) who bounced from team to team before establishing a reputation as a clutch playmaker in Beantown.

If there's been a defining trend in this series, it's that neither team has played to its full abilities for any appreciable time. The Bruins, who win via timely scoring, clutch goaltending, strong defensive play in their own end, and puck possession in their opponent's zone, played three stinkers before finally getting their act together. Bruins fans can take hope that in rebounding from a 3-1 deficit, their team played the kind of game that brought it to the top of the Eastern Conference and within a handful of points of the Presidents' Trophy as the best team in the regular season.

And one could argue that the Hurricanes have choked on prosperity, blowing that same lead largely because of an inability to control the puck in their own zone, failing to support goaltender Cam Ward, and a sudden inability to get the puck to the net at the opposite side of the ice.

So is there a trend here at all? Well, the Bruins are a very good team that has found its game while the 'Canes, a team that some might argue was fortunate to find its way past the New Jersey Devils, must now go into Boston and do what it couldn't do there in Game 5 or at home in Game 6.

Ward certainly could steal the win up north, but Thomas has his game back. The Bruins are playing physically with a team that doesn't like to get hit, and they are better in their own zone than the 'Canes. And if there is a little bit of history to take into this game, just go back to Wednesday night in Washington. It didn't matter where it was played or what the history was, the team that got the breaks early and built on them won.

It goes that way. How you play matters most. And right now, the Bruins are playing better than the 'Canes.

If there's a trend here, that's the one to go with.

Never in my history of writing on this site have I received mail like I've gotten regarding my column on the NHL's twisted and tortured logic in reversing the automatic suspension handed out to Carolina's Scott Walker for punching Boston's Aaron Ward in Game Six of their series.

I've received well over 200 postings and they run about 20-1 in agreement, a significant number given that most people usually write to tell you how wrong you are rather than to give voice to something they agree with.

It seems that in this case, however, readers are bothered to the nth degree by the inexplicable lack of consistency in NHL decisions regarding supplemental discipline. I should also point out that regarding a Canada vs. U.S. breakdown, Canadians and fans with mailing addresses from Carolina were more likely to side with Campbell while arguing that not only should there not have been a suspension, but Walker shouldn't have been fined. In some cases, writers argued he should be given a medal.

Some examples:

From Darryl Gonzalez in Orchard Park, NY: The NHL puts a great product on the ice, but it is a bush league. All the stupid rulings it makes are beyond comprehension, I agree. You forgot to mention the one set of rules for what constitutes a penalty during the regular season (a tap of your stick on an opponent's arm) and the other set of rules they use in the playoffs (cross-checking someone 10 feet away to clear him from in front of the net is okay). If you watch the play on the ice, it's great. If you watch what happens in the administration of the league, it's a joke.

From A.T. Meister, Toronto, Ont: How sad that a game of such infinite potential for athletic achievement and expression should be run by gentleman that respect a code of violence over a code of credibility. Thank you for making this sad point about Colin Campbell and the NHL (the forever almost-major sports league).

From Brian Thatcher, Ottawa, Ont.: Thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU. Finally, someone has the sense to write about why the NHL is not considered a professional league by anything other than the most die-hard fan. Campbell has long made a mockery of discipline within the NHL. The fact that the NHL does not understand how this reflects poorly on their league speaks volumes to their level of ignorance.

In any other league (NBA, NFL, a freakin' beer league for God's sake); Walker would have been suspended, no matter what the circumstance. You have finally touched on, in my opinion, why the NHL will never be considered "professional". I hope they see this article and take it to heart. How seriously a league is taken is a direct result of how the league treats its own players, and in this instance (and many, many others), the NHL fails miserably.

From John Sabo, Boynton Beach, Fla. (edited only for brevity): Are you kidding me? How many minutes of ice time have you played? Obviously none... Your armchair- quarterback commentary of this event clearly demonstrates zero understanding of what really happens on the ice. The NHL's explanation of their ruling on this incident was clear and logical to SOMEONE WHO KNOWS THE GAME. A player with a history of concussions being harassed by a defenseman AT ANY POINT in a game should be fair game for retaliation. If Ward was not ready to defend himself, then he should have thought twice before instigating or elevating the level of rough play. What the NHL SHOULD be embarrassed about is changing the dynamics and traditions of a game for the sake of queasy sissies in the media who think fighting isn't very nice.

For everyone who missed the hockey class at sport-writing school this is a CONTACT SPORT where aggression is an integral component & strategy of the game. Turning the game into essentially the Ice Capades with these wussy minor penalty calls to increase scoring simply turns multi-million dollar star players into Academy-awarding wining actors, and melodramatic media outrage over incidents like this simply furthers a relatively uninformed public opinion that hockey is just some brutal sport played by a bunch of dumb criminals.

If the NHL wants to increase their fanbase so they can fiscally compete with the likes of football, baseball, and basketball, they need enlist the help of folks like you to show the general public why hockey is clearly the most exciting, physically challenging, and mentally taxing sport on the planet. This year's playoff series has been one of the most exciting in years, yet all the sport-writers want to talk about is a right hook and a black eye.

Finally, a word about the Pittsburgh Penguins: For all the supposed dislike between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, consider these words from Ovechkin during the post-game handshake: "Good luck (in the Conference Final). I hope you win the Cup."

Say what you will about the administration of the sport, but you can never take away the things in the game that truly make it real.

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