Game 7. The two greatest words in hockey. And an inevitability whenever the Bruins and Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The two historic Original Six franchises will duke it out for a winner-take-all seventh game for the third time in the last seven years Tuesday night at TD Garden.
Unlike the first two instances where the Maple Leafs overcame a 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7, the Bruins became the ones to force the scenario after Sunday’s stellar 4-2 Game 6 victory in Toronto.
“Both teams are well coached and great teams,” defenseman Torey Krug said following Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “Anytime a team was able to win, the adjustments on the other side were key to the other teams’ success. So everyone has been bouncing back and now it’s up to us to win two in a row.”
The back and forth between the two teams have made for a see-saw battle. Neither team has earned consecutive wins during the series. Both teams have won twice away from their respective home crowds in Boston and Toronto. The Bruins look to break both trends Tuesday night with a second-round matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets on the line.
Both teams bring Game 7 experience from last year. The battle-tested Bruins have a little more Game 7 experience compared to the Leafs, though. A handful of veterans — Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask — remain from their 2011 Stanley Cup team that became the first team in league history to win three Game 7’s in one postseason.
But the x’s and o’s, trends, experience and recent history are all thrown out the window once the puck drops.
“We prepare to win every game and I’m sure they’re thinking the same thing. I just think that the two teams are pretty evenly matched,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I think it’s a product of two good teams that can punch back, and here we are.”
The aura around a Game 7 can lead to triumph and heartbreak. The Bruins were on both ends of that this decade. A 3-0 blown lead to the Flyers in 2010 — Boston’s fourth straight Game 7 loss — paved way for their 2011 run. The Bruins then followed ex-Capitals forward Joel Ward’s 2012 game-winner the following year with their triumphant comeback for the ages from 4-1 down in the third period of Game 7 against a different looking Maple Leafs bunch.
Bergeron, who scored the tying and winning goals of that Game 7 thriller in 2013, knows that history all too well. Especially this year as either team will likely be pegged as Stanley Cup favorites after the Blue Jackets’ shocking sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It’s do-or-die,” Bergeron said. “You’ve got to go out and leave it all out there.”
Bergeron and his fellow teammates did that last year against this same Leafs squad. Both teams added different faces to improve their Cup chances over the last 12 months. And there will be a few players, like third-year defenseman Brandon Carlo, who’ll skate in their first-ever Game 7.
So what’s the message to those Bruins who haven’t skated in a Game 7?
“It’s about managing that stress and using it to your advantage,” Bergeron said. “The place is going to be electric tomorrow with fans and everything, so you have to use that the right way and not overthink stuff. Go out the way we’ve been playing — especially in Game 6 — and duplicate that, and like I said, use your instincts.”