MONTREAL The Boston Bruins will have plenty to prove Wednesday night at the TD Garden when they line up against the Montreal Canadiens for a 13th and final time this season.
It could mean a promising new beginning or it could be the bitter end for some of the current nucleus of Boston players, since a loss Wednesday will mean premature playoff exits in each of the last three seasons.
When the puck drops for Game 7, the Bruins will be looking to exorcise the playoff ghosts and poltergeists that have haunted them in recent years.
They lost Game 7 at home, in overtime, to Carolina in 2009. Last year there was the historic collapse against the Flyers -- the memory of which is something the Bs have battled all season.
They partially beat down those demons by ripping off three straight wins against the Habs in this series. But until they win a Game 7, which they haven't done since 1994, the Bruins can't say they've broken the spell.
One doesnt even have to ask Zdeno Chara or Tim Thomas the questions about their Game 7 histories to understand the bitterness and disappointment thats come along with dropping a combined seven of them over their hockey careers.
We have experience, I guess, said Thomas when asked the Game 7 question. Its win or youre done. Weve won three games so far in this series. If we play the way we did when we won the three, then well win the fourth game in the series.
Chara is a fruitless 0-5 during his decorated Norris Trophy-winning career in Game 7's with the Bruins and Senators, and has had some of his most forgettable performances in those seminal moments. Thomas is 0-2 and has a chip resting on his shoulder.
The question is: Will history change Wednesday night? Or repeat itself?
We worked all year to get home ice, and now were going home, said Mark Recchi.
We have to just embrace whats coming up tomorrow. This a great time of year and you need to have fun with it. You cant get weighed down by the pressure. You just have to go play . . . I trust these guys and know theyll be ready to play. Its one game. It is what it is and both teams will be ready.
The Canadiens, on the other hand, haven't lost a Game 7 since -- you guessed it -- being beaten by Boston in 1994. They're 4-0 in Game 7's over the span . . . and, in fact, counting Tuesday night they're 6-1 in their last seven elimination games (elimination games being described as any game in which a team is ousted from the playoffs by a loss, which can happen prior to a Game 7). Forward Mike Cammalleri has been super-human in those clutch situations with seven goals and 10 points in those do-or-die moments with Les Habitants.
The path to a Game 7 in Boston was paved Tuesday night when the Bruins couldnt vanquish the Habs at a rocking Bell Centre, and instead found themselves embroiled in a special-teams extravaganza for the first time in the seven-game series. There were 11 power plays in the game, seven of them for Montreal, and the Habs connected twice.
The Bruins power play, on the other hand, was 0-for-4 Tuesday, is 0-for-19 so far in the playoffs, and is a big reason why the B's are being forced to a Game 7. Because the Bruins clearly outplayed the Canadiens when the teams skated 5-on-5.
It all started when referee Kevin Pollock botched a Brian Gionta goal in the opening minutes, whistling the play dead when he lost sight of the puck as it sat in the open ice next to Tim Thomas. Gionta successfully swiped it into the net, but Pollock waved off the goal. Angry Habs fans began raining white rally towels onto the ice in protest when it was clear that Pollocks call was going to stand.
After messing up the first big call of the game, it appeared Pollock and fellow referee Chris Lee spent the rest of the night attempting to make amends.
The five-minute boarding major and game misconduct call on Milan Lucic was iffy to start with, and became downright laughable when the fallen Jaroslav Spacek -- helped off the ice by the medical staff --was back taking regular shifts at the end of the second period.
None of the Bruins would comment on the record about the Lucic penalty. But you can be sure plenty of Bs players were rolling their eyes with derision when Spacek was back in the game moments after he lay on the ice as if he were seriously injured.
Then the refs compounded those mistakes with weak-sauce calls on Nathan Horton for slashing and Patrice Bergeron for goaltender inference, the latter wiping out a Boston power play 13 seconds into the man advantage.
Not that the Bruins would have done anything with the chance. Bostons 0-for-4 performance worsened the stats for the Bruins' historically bad power play during these playoffs.
It seems as though there's an inability to promote change on the power play and inability to spur movement, creativity or production on Bostons special teams, and it may end up being the reason for the Bruins' demise. It may also lead to Claude Julien and some of the others on his staff being employed elsewhere next year.
But thats a story that can wait for golfing season.
Its no surprise the Bruins couldnt close out the archrival Habs given the chance on Tuesday night. The Montreal roster is full of proven winners like Cammalleri, Gionta and Hal Gill, and they had one last good fight left in them, especially at home.
That sets the stage for the Bruins to soothe all those Game 7 fears, and finally give guys like Thomas and Chara that moment theyve been looking for over the last few seasons. Its no Stanley Cup, of course, but theres much to be gained for Bostons elite players if they finally learned how to win a Game 7 after cornering the market in losing them.