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Neely leaving his mark on the Bruins

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  April 28, 2011 12:13 PM

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When P.K. Subban's power play blast that should have had a NASCAR sponsorship logo on it whizzed by Tim Thomas with 1:57 remaining to give Montreal new life in Game 7, Bruins President Cam Neely, peering down from his presidential perch, was thinking exactly what most Spoked-Believers were.

"I was like, 'Can it never be easy?' said Neely, who wore a suit and a look of relief after his Bruins knocked off the Canadiens 4-3 in overtime last night at TD Garden to advance to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

"That was the first thing, like, man, 'It's just never going to be easy.' But I guess that is what makes it a little sweeter."

It doesn't get much sweeter in recent history for the Bruins, who ended their run of Game 7s gone bad against their biggest rival and rallied from an 0-2 series deficit for the first time in franchise history to do so. Seventeen years after they won their last Game 7, also against the Canadiens, it was No. 18 (Nathan Horton) who delivered the Bruins from the brink of yet another playoff disaster with the winner in OT.

The validating victory earned the Bruins a date with redemption and the Philadelphia Flyers in the land of broken dreams, known to the rest of the NHL as the second round. It also got the president's seal of approval for a gutty performance.

"They showed some great character in pulling this game out. I think it was a series where our team just wasn't going to be denied," said Neely.

Character, resolve, determination, and timely tallies -- It's called Bruins with Neely at the helm.

Those were characteristics that defined Neely's Hall of Fame career in Black and Gold. Old No. 8 has left his imprint on this Bruins team since becoming the eighth president in team history last June, 33 days after the collapse against the Flyers. He has brought leadership, accountability, and a sense of urgency to Causeway Street. Last night it showed.

Neely is already on record as saying that he feels like this club has Final Four (re: Eastern Conference finals) talent. That's still debatable, but what isn't is that Neely has raised the bar.

That's why this win was huge for Bruins' leadership, from Neely to General Manager Peter Chiarelli to coach Claude Julien to captain Zdeno Chara, finally on the winning side in a Game 7 in his sixth try. As a group the latter three had been 0-3 in Game 7s with the Bruins.

If it got to 0-4 it was over and out for Julien, and probably Chiarelli. A first-round exit after heartbreaking losses the last two years in the second round would have left Neely with no choice but to reboot the Bruins behind the bench and in the front office.

"You don't want to think [about losing] during the game," Neely said. "You just want to think about winning. Obviously, everybody knew what was at stake in Game 7 in the first round when you think you shouldn't be in that situation necessarily. But it was good to pull it out."

Still, you get the sense that Neely is reserving judgment until the playoffs are concluded. He's looking at the big picture, and a second-round exit for the third year in a row would probably negate the euphoria of breaking the Game 7 hex. Neely was asked if this was a big win for Julien, whom Neely issued a tepid vote of confidence for in December.

"Based on how we finished last year and coming into this year, we had a lot of expectations to do really well," Neely said. "We had a good regular season. We knew it was going to be a tough series against Montreal, just based on how we played each other throughout the regular season. In this sport there are always expectations and there are always pressures."

Neely clearly has the hang of this executive thing because that was a suit-speak answer, but what else can he really give without making a false promise or undermining his coach? The second-round is still the Rubicon the Bruins must cross. Last night's win, no matter how cathartic, doesn't change that. That's the type of clear-headed vision you want from your pucks president.

But any potential human resources reshuffling takes a back seat to hockey. Instead of waking up this morning to a fed-up fan base and pondering the fate of the franchise after another playoff failure, Neely is looking forward to a rematch with the Flyers.

"No matter who you face in the second round you want to continue on, said Neely. "Philadelphia, it probably gives a little extra incentive."

Of course it's not all handshakes and happiness for the Spoked-Bs heading into Round 2. There are some real concerns. The first line delivered the game-winner last night on Horton's third goal of the series, but it ended the series with six points, or as many as Chris Kelly had on his own. Flyers center Danny Briere had six goals and seven points in Round 1.

Then there is the power play, which went from feckless to reckless last night, when a second-period Black and Gold gaffe led to a shorthanded goal for the Canadiens that tied the score 2-2. The Bruins' power play was 0-21 in the series, and it looked even worse.

"It's something that I know everybody has talked about. We've talked about it internally," said Neely. "The guys are working on it. The coaching staff is working on it. ...I think we have to improve on it for sure."

But we'll worry about that when the puck drops on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.

We know by now that it's never easy with Bruins. Easy isn't in their vocabulary or DNA, but these won't be the same old Bruins because Neely won't allow them to be.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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