I like the Bruins.
So that is what it comes down for your beloved Boston Bruins, a team that has been rebuilt and revived in recent years: a de facto flip of the coin. Tonight at the TD Garden, in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Bruins will play their 100th game of the 2010-11 season, and there is as much reason to believe that the Bruins will win as there is that they will lose. According to a chart in today's Globe, the Bruins have played a seventh and deciding game in precisely 20 series during their considerable history. The results are exactly what one would expect.
And so on we go, again, to the deciding game.
Recent Boston sports history should remind us that every chance at a championship should be maximized. Tom Brady got hurt in the 2008 season opener after the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII and New England has not won a playoff game since. The Celtics lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals to the Lakers last year and now seem on their way to assisted living. Beginning with their Game 7 defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, the Red Sox have not won a single postseason game.
You just never know when these chances are going to come, no matter how promising the future looks. Winning takes talent and coaching, smarts and guts. Even then, there is a required amount of luck, particularly in a sport where a season can be decided by the bounce off a defenseman's skate.
Ask the San Jose Sharks about this. Or, for that matter, ask the Bruins, who won Game 5 of their first-round series against Montreal in overtime only after a seemingly certain, decisive goal by the Canadiens deflected off the skate of an unknowing Zdeno Chara.
The NHL postseason being the grueling the triathlon that it is, the Bruins' postseason run thus far has been nothing short of exhausting for participants and observers alike. After Game 2 of this series, the Lightning elected to fly home immediately after the game, a decision that may have contributed to their heavy-legged performance in Game 3 (a Bruins win). Maybe that is part of the reason the Bruins elected to fly home yesterday after their Game 6 defeat, choosing to get two reasonably good nights of sleep before the game that will perhaps decide their season.
"We’ve worked all year to win in front of our fans," Patrice Bergeron told reporters yesterday, all but reminding the team's anxious, beaten-down fan base that the players need their full support. "We’ve got to forget about the first six games — it’s all about one now. It all comes down to one game. I think pressure is on both teams, and we shouldn’t allow pressure to get in your head. You’ve got to go out there and play your game."
Indeed, for as much as the focus here is on the Bruins, the same variables apply tonight for a Tampa Bay team that was every bit as good as the Bruins during the regular season. The Lightning have won a Cup more recently, to be sure, but they are assured of nothing.
During the regular season, the Bruins (246) and the Lightning (247) scored a virtually identical number of goals. During this series, the count is 21-20 in favor of Tampa. Overall, in the postseason, the Lightning and Bruins have identical records (11-6) and scored essentially the same number of goals (59-57 for Tampa) while allowing virtually the same number, too (44-45 for Tampa).
From the start, everything about this series screamed for a seventh game.
Tonight, for the Bruins especially, the line between victory and defeat is as fine as ever. In the wake of a Game 6 loss during which Tampa Bay scored three power play goals, the Bruins must stay out of the penalty box. Simultaneously, they must play aggressively. Striking a balance between those two truths could tip the series one way or the other, the outcome kicking off a weekend that will be nothing if not memorable.
Bruins-Lightning, Game 7 tonight, winner playing the Vancouver Canucks for the coveted Stanley Cup.
So who do you like?
So whaddaya think?
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