Game 7’s Have Been Light on the Whistles, Mixed on Success for the Bruins

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Any guesses?

Is Game 7 Wednesday night going to go the way of the Canadiens’ Game 7 win in 2008, when Montreal rode a pair of power play goals to victory over the Bruins? Or will the refs simply recuse themselves from the action like they did during the epic, 1-0, Boston win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011?

As Nate Silver pointed out on FiveThirtyEight this week, “Usually in Game 7s, referees let an awful lot go and call far fewer penalties than they do in the regular season or the rest of the playoffs. Game 7s are very good environments for the physical hockey teams that [Don] Cherry likes best.”


En route to its Stanley Cup victory, Boston played in three Game 7’s (Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver) with only 18 penalty minutes called. The Bruins had a total of 10 (eight against the Habs, none against the Lightning, and two against the Canucks). Indeed, that would seem to invite the sort of physical presence the Bruins were lacking in the Game 6 loss at Montreal, yet had shining in the Game 5 win in Boston, albeit with the latter being a penalty-filled affair (22 total minutes). Montreal scored both of its goals late in the game on a pair of power plays.

Logic would suggest that if the Bruins can bring that type of game to the deciding contest of their Eastern Conference semifinal showdown, with the knowledge that the whistles may be more infrequent, Boston’s chances of advancing to the Eastern Conference finals just got a whole lot richer.
The Bruins are only 4-4 in the eight Game 7’s during the Claude Julien era, with No. 9 in the crosshairs for Wednesday night. It is the seventh-straight year that the Bruins will play in a Game 7, an NHL record.
Here’s how we got here:
April 21, 2008: Canadiens 5, Bruins 0; 20 penalty minutes (Boston: 12, Montreal: 8).
The Bruins actually had six of the 10 power plays in this game, going a Kaberle-like 0-for-six with the man-advantage, as the Canadiens routed Boston, 5-0. The Habs got an early goal from Mike Komisarek, 3:31 into the game, and never looked back. Andre Kostitsyn netted a power play goal for Montreal to make it 4-0, after Marc Savard was whistled for goalie interference, then Sergei Kostitsyn scored with 7.3 seconds remaining in the Bruins’ season. Tim Thomas was pretty pedestrian that night, allowing five goals on 35 shots.
After the game, Montreal celebrated by torching police cars. The Detroit Red Wings actually won the Stanley Cup a few weeks later.


May 14, 2009: Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2; 12 PIM (Carolina: 8, Boston: 4).
The Game 7 loss to Carolina in 2009 was something of backwards cyclical nature. It was a decade earlier that Boston beat the Hurricanes to meet the Buffalo Sabres in the second round of the NHL playoffs, a place they hadn’t been since. So, naturally, it made sense to spend the 10-year anniversary of that moment by losing an overtime heartbreaker to Scott Walker and company.
There were six power plays in the contest, with neither team capitalizing on one. The Bruins opened the scoring when Byron Bitz found the back of the net 7:42 into the game. The Hurricanes tied it less than six minutes later thanks to Rod Brind’Amour and some guy named Dennis Seidenberg, who chipped in with the assist.

May 14, 2010: Flyers 4, Bruins 3; 10 PIM Philadelphia: 6, Boston: 4).

Yeah, this one.
The Bruins led the series, 3-0, then blew a 3-0 lead to Philadelphia, which took the advantage in the third period after the Bruins were called with a too many men penalty, which brought the wrong side of Boston’s playoff history into a series in which the Bruins made the Heimlich necessary NHL protocol. Simon Gagne scored at the 12:52 mark of the third period to complete Philadelphia’s remarkable comeback. It remains Tuukka Rask’s lone loss in a Game 7. He’s played in two.
Of course, the Bruins’ collapse in this series is widely tied to Boston losing David Krejci after Game 3 with a dislocated wrist that he injured after an open-ice shot from Philly’s Mike Richards. In both Cup runs in 2011 and ’13, Krejci was the Bruins’ leading scorer, which is precisely why his inability to find his first goal this postseason is troubling, not only for Wednesday’s Game 7, but beyond.



April 27, 2011: Bruins 4, Canadiens 3; 12 PIM (Montreal: 4 Boston: 8).

The first of the trilogy of Game 7’s during the 2011 Cup run, the Canadiens capitalized on a pair of the Bruins penalties; Yannik Weber in the first period after Michael Ryder was called for hooking, and – surprise – P.K. Subban in the third while Patrice Bergeron sat for two minutes for high-sticking. The Bergeron penalty came late in the game, 17:23 into the third period, and Subban’s ensuing score with less than two minutes to play, forcing overtime and Nathan Horton’s heroics.

Defensemen Andrew Ference (two) and Adam McQauid, neither of whom is present for this version of Game 7, three years later, scored Boston’s three regulation goals.

May 27, 2011: Bruins 1, Lightning 0; Zero PIM
The Game 7 that will go down as the grand example of the refs swallowing their whistles, Boston’s taut, 1-0 win over the Lightning, thanks to a third-period goal by Horton, was as compelling a Game 7 as any hockey fan could imagine. As ESPN’s Scott Burnside wrote, “If this game was a chess match, it was a chess match on amphetamines, as the pace rarely broke for the full 60 minutes. It was the Bruins who gradually exerted control, winning the loose puck battles, dominating time of possession in the Lightning zone and forcing netminder Dwayne Roloson into a series of sensational saves to keep the game scoreless.”

The closest either the Bruins or the Canadiens have come to such a penalty-free game was Montreal’s 4-2 win in Game 3 of this series. Each team was 0-for-1 on its power play attempt.

June 15, 2011: Bruins 4, Canucks 0; 6 PIM (Vancouver: 4, Boston: 2).

The Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in 39 years after beating the Vancouver Canucks two straight times, including a Game 7 during which Vancouver only had two power plays to Boston’s one. Neither team scored with the advantage. Bergeron, however, did score shorthanded on one of the Canucks’ attempts, to basically seal the deal for the Bruins late in the second period.

All of Vancouver is probably still wondering how that wasn’t a penalty.

April 25, 2012: Capitals 2, Bruins 1; 8 PIM (Washington: 6, Boston: 2).
This one was ugly for more reasons than one. In a series in which each game was decided by a single goal, an NHL record, Joel Ward scored 2:57 into overtime (Mike Knuble on the assist to twist the knife a bit more) to give Washington the win, trampling on Boston’s repeat hopes. After the game, a stream of racist tweets denouncing Ward, an African-Canadian, put Bostonians in a bad light, even if most of the offenders were located far from New England boundaries.

There were only four power plays in the game, all unsuccessful. Boston was 0-for-3.

May 13, 2013: Bruins 5, Maple Leafs 4; 18 PIM (Toronto: 8, Boston: 10).
There’s still no logical explanation for how it happened, but the Bruins’ miraculous Game 7 win over the Leafs sparked another Cup run that would make it all the way to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final. This was a game rich with penalties for a Game 7, and the Leafs were successful on one of their three advantages (Cody Franson in the first period).
Of course, the rest is legend. The Bruins were down 3-1 when Horton scored at the 9:18 mark of the third period, then in the game’s final three minutes, both Milan Lucic and Bergeron scored to tie the game at three, before Bergeron scored again in overtime for the improbable victory.

The 18 penalty minutes were the most for a Game 7 involving the Bruins since the 2008 loss to the Canadiens.
That’s an average of 10.75 penalty minutes per Game 7 since 2008, with the Bruins averaging only 5.25 minutes per game, a shade over a single major. Consider that during these playoffs, the Bruins are averaging 10.5 minutes in the box (Montreal is way behind the pack among the still-active teams with an 8.3 average), and that screams a drastic change in the way the game is officiated.
Silver writes:

Incidentally, there are more misconduct penalties called in the playoffs than during the regular season, and this trend has been especially pronounced during the past five years or so. For those of you who aren’t familiar with misconducts, they’re penalties that rule a player off the ice for either 10 minutes or the rest of the game, depending on the severity of the infraction. However, unlike major and minor penalties, they don’t give the other team a power play (although misconducts are usually called in conjunction with major or minor penalties). Thus misconducts, along with fines and suspensions from the league office, may serve as an attractive solution for officials. They serve a deterrent effect without having quite as much of a direct impact on the game as fans see it…But by Game 7, referees drop all pretense of calling the game as they usually would, despite the action remaining highly physical.

Score first, stay out of the box. The Bruins have to accomplish the first on their own (the prediction here says Krejci scores the game’s first goal), but they should have some help when it comes to the latter. It’s Game 7, you know.

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