Game 7. It’s the two best words in hockey. It brings anticipation and excitement for a winner take all scenario. It also brings its share of tension, anxiety and nerves.
The latter adjectives are something Bruins fans are likely feeling after failing on two attempts to end their first-round series with the Maple Leafs after taking a 3-1 series lead. The former adjectives best describe Torontonians feelings after the Leafs earned a trip to Game 7 for the second time in six seasons against the Black and Gold.
Many new faces will be playing in their first career Game 7’s. A few veterans, like Rick Nash, David Backes, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, Jake Gardiner, Patrick Marleau and James van Riemsdyk will be getting another crack in another do-or-die scenario. A plethora of talented youngsters led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy will have their first Game 7 experience Wednesday night at TD Garden.
With that, the Bruins vets have some wisdom to share with their young teammates that will experience the decisive seventh game for the first time.
“First of all just enjoy it because you know these opportunities don’t come very often,” the snakebitten Nash said following Tuesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “And just play your game [and] do your thing to play outside yourself.”
“It’s nice to have those guys who have quite the experience and have been there for awhile,” Pastrnak said about leaning on veterans like Nash, Chara and Bergeron heading into Wednesday night. “They know what it takes, and it’s good for us young guys to have them around and approach them [with advice].”
Game 7’s have brought both heartbreak and triumph to the Bruins in recent memory. No one can forget that 4-1 comeback against the same Maple Leafs squad five years ago.
But the Leafs won’t be needing any motivation from the heartbreak they suffered on May 13, 2013. Only four players — Gardiner, van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov — remain with the club. They have a top-tier coach, talented young players, a fresh mindset and carry all the momentum to Boston in hopes of overcoming a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in their 101-year history.
Like Games 5 and 6, the Bruins haven’t fared too well in series-clinching scenarios. They’ve lost their last four potential clinchers dating back to their 2014 series with the Montreal Canadiens where they blew a 3-2 series lead and lost in Game 7 under then head coach Claude Julien.
Those recent Game 7’s prove that anything can happen. Most recently, it proved that a three-goal lead isn’t safe like in 2013, nor is the team that had the best record in the regular season a shoe-in for victory — even hosting on home-ice — one year later.
“Game 7 they talk about pressure versus embracing the moment,” said Bruce Cassidy, who will be coaching in his first career Game 7 at the NHL level Wednesday night. “This is a game that players dream about being in this situation, you know, playing road hockey up in Canada or in a big city in the United States. That’s what it’s about…enjoy the moment and prepare to play well and I thought we did that today [at practice] and now you have to go out and embrace it.”
Executing a game plan is one thing. That’s where the pressure lies on both squads.
Embracing a Game 7 is a better mindset for any player, however.
“This is what you grow up as a kid dreaming [about] a Game 7, and making a difference,” Charlie McAvoy said about Game 7. “That’s my goal tomorrow is to go out and enjoy it, and it’s going to be fun. We’ve got the crowd with us. It’s going to be loud and it’s going to be energetic and we’re going to have to feed off that and it’s going to be an unbelievable experience.”