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roy macgregor

It may be hockey's dumbest joke, but it's still the best way to describe the power play of the Boston Bruins.

They should decline the next penalty called against the other side.

In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday night, it was six whiffs on six tries, including one four-minute power play at the start the game and a two-man advantage that ran more than a minute and a half early in the second period. They had nothing to show but a Mark Recchi shot that grazed the side of the Vancouver Canucks' post.

As the second-dumbest hockey joke has it, close only counts in horseshoes.

The Boston power play is running at a sickly 7.5-per-cent success rate in the playoffs (five goals in 67 glorious opportunities) compared to 25.8 per cent enjoyed by Vancouver. Fully a dozen teams already down in these playoffs had better results when playing with the man-advantage.

When the Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens by scoring in overtime in Game 7, they became the first team to win a best-of-seven series without a single power-play goal - and we are talking here of 560 such series that have been played in NHL history.

"We have to find a way to score more goals," Patrice Bergeron said Thursday following Boston's 1-0 loss to Vancouver. "We need to get to the net more."

They certainly need to do something.

Coach Claude Julien has tried everything he can think of. Different line combinations, different attack strategies - even recently moving Zdeno Chara, hockey's Colossus of Rhodes, up front in the hopes that the 6-foot-9, 260-pound defenceman might screen the opposing goaltender enough for a puck to squeak through.

Not only has it not worked, but the strategy has effectively eliminated Chara's 105.9-mile-an-hour shot from the point, an option that should be the main weapon in Boston's attack when they have the advantage.

The result Wednesday was to leave Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo sprawled on the ice over frozen pucks he easily stopped while Chara stared down like a pilot in search of a landmark.

The closest the Bruins came to scoring was during that 5-on-3, when 43-year-old Recchi, caught in his own torturous scoring slump, seemed like he had but to nurse the puck into the open side but missed.

"There's no sense getting frustrated," Recchi said Thursday. "Turn the page."

But the Bruins cannot and the media will not allow them to. The punchless power play has been an issue for months. Back in March, Julien even issued a challenge to his players, offering each of the top three lines power-play time with the understanding that the most successful would become the No. 1 power play unit.

"You've got to do something to get the power play going," Julien said at the time.

But nothing seemed to work. The power play was an issue against Montreal, an issue against the Philadelphia Flyers in Round 2, and an issue yet again when the Bruins met Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 3. One game into Round 4, the final, it is simmering again.

"We're dead even," protested Julien, who not only pointed out that both teams went 0-6 on their power plays Wednesday - Vancouver's winning goal coming when the teams were at full strength - but actually said, "We had more chances on our power play."

Close, it turns out, does count for something in hockey - when there's nothing else to count.

Former NHL coach Pierre Page used to say that when power plays went wrong it was much like actor's forgetting their lines. They stumble once, they stumble again, soon enough they have no confidence and freeze up entirely with stage fright.

In Boston's case, the problem may also be the actors. In 2009 they traded their best natural goal scorer, Phil Kessel, to the Toronto Maple Leafs on a deal for draft picks that may one day prove an exchange of genius proportions - but one that at the moment means Kessel's 32 goals this season were for the Maple Leafs, not the Bruins. They lost their best playmaker, Marc Savard, to repeated concussions, with Savard appearing in only 25 games this past season with a mere 10 points.

None of this is to suggest Boston is a bad team. Quite the opposite. The Bruins have strong forwards such as David Krejci - leading the playoffs in goal scoring with 10 - and Nathan Horton (eight goals) and Bergeron (15 points). They have magnificent defence in Chara and partner Dennis Seidenberg. And they have a dramatic, sensational goaltender in Tim Thomas - as he proved Wednesday night all the way to final minute of play.

They have been superb 5-on-5. Their toughest match so far - Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against Tampa - was a 1-0 victory most remarkable for the fact that the game did not include a single penalty.

The message should be clear: Boston's best chance is when no one at all takes a penalty. No power plays for anyone.

"Five on five we have to be a lot better," Recchi said. "That's been our story all year."

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