BRIGHTON, Mass. – There are myriad factors that go into success in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It can be about a hot goaltender standing on his head at exactly the right moment. It can be about a superstar player stepping up and dominating on the biggest stage imaginable for an NHL player. It could be about an upstart young hockey team that’s just learning how to win in the postseason for the first time, and taking that next step.
That’s certainly what the Maple Leafs will be hoping for after losing in Game 7’s to the Bruins at TD Garden both last spring, and also in 2013 with D-man Jake Gardiner as the lone holdover from that Toronto team.
For the Bruins it’s the hope and expectation that their overwhelming Game 7 playoff experience is going to carry them to a victory, much as it did last season for a group of veteran players that have been there many times over.
Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask have all played in a number of Game 7’s at this point, and that should pay dividends for the Black and Gold.
“I imagine everybody will have some level of butterflies, even the older guys. But once the puck drops let’s hope [the Game 7 experience] helps us,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It will help the older guys that have been through it, some of them have been in a lot more than me. For guys like Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk or Charlie McAvoy, it will help that they’ve already gone through it [last season vs. Toronto]. Our veteran guys have been through it a number of times, but at the end of the day it’s a new team, new scenario. They’re a year older and we’re a year older. But it helps a little bit, and you take what you can, or what you need from it, and then off you go.”
Chara will be playing in the 13th Game 7 of his career on Tuesday night at the Garden, and he kept what he’s learned short and sweet when he discussed it ahead of the winner-take-all contest.
“You’ve got to be aware of everything,” said Chara, with his sage words of wisdom learned in 20 plus years of NHL experience.
Both Chara and Patrice Bergeron were pivotal parts of the 2011 Stanley Cup team that became the first one to win three Game 7’s en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup, and Bergeron will be suiting up for his 11th career Game 7 when the B’s take the ice against the Maple Leafs. Unsurprisingly, Bergeron said it comes down to “a battle of wills” between Boston and Toronto clubs that have battled to a draw through six games in the series.
“It’s do-or-die. You’ve got to leave it all out there,” said Bergeron, who scored a pair of goals to vanquish the Leafs memorably in a comeback Game 7 win in 2013. “I think obviously a battle of will and especially more so in a Game 7. Whatever it takes, I guess. It’s about poise and about making sure you use that stress and nervousness in the right way, and feed off of it in that way.
“You need to make sure that you play the right way even though there is a lot on the line. They’re a good team that doesn’t give you much. The space is very tight on the ice. When we simplify our game and bring it into their zone, that’s the way we want to play.”
Is big game playoff experience the only thing that will factor into Tuesday night’s showdown within an Eastern Conference playoff bracket that’s opening wide for deep postseason advancement? Most definitely not.
It certainly didn't help against the Montreal Canadiens back in 2014 in a Game 7 at TD Garden. But it did come through in the end a year ago in a very same Game 7 against the Maple Leafs when the Bruins dominated the third period when it came to winning time against Toronto.
It’s a clear advantage for a B’s team that’s far more experienced than the young, skilled Maple Leafs, and they need to use all of that to their advantage once the puck is dropped for the best moment in all of pro sports: Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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