To some, it’s one of the most momentous occasions in all of professional sports. The focus is the most laser-sharp and the stakes are the highest. You leave your heart out there and give it your all for the right to continue your season. Game 7s can show you what any team is truly made of.
The Bruins, though, are looking at Game 7 as just another game. It’s the same perspective they’ve taken into every game this season, and they aren’t interested in changing their approach heading into the final game of this second-round series against the Canadiens.
“A Game 7 is a Game 7,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien following his team’s optional practice at TD Garden on Tuesday. “You go in there, you give it your best shot -- as a coach, as players, as a team -- and you go from there. We’ve been through those many times, and like I said, you hope that your experience is going to help you get through those.”
For Julien, a Game 7 is nothing new. During his Bruins tenure, which began in 2007, he has coached eight Game 7s, compiling a 4-4 overall record. Here's a look at the most recent.
2013 - The Comeback
The most recent Game 7, of course, was one of the most memorable. During the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Toronto, the Bruins took a 3-1 series lead but saw the Maple Leafs even the series, sending it back to Boston for the deciding game.
With about 10 minutes left in the third period of that Game 7, the Bruins were down 4-1. Then, the magic began. Nathan Horton made it 4-2, and with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron beat James Reimer 31 seconds apart to knot the game at 4-4 and send it into overtime.
Six minutes into the extra frame, Bergeron sent the Bruins onto the next round.
With experience like that comes confidence. Throughout their 2014 second round series against Montreal, the Bruins have insisted that they don’t get rattled, no matter the circumstances, and it is because they have been there before. They’ve been down, they’ve been counted out and they have still managed to find a way.
“It’s a Game 7, but you’re not going to be nervous — you’re going to be excited,” said defenseman Matt Bartkowski. “You might have some emotions, but they’ll be good emotions. We’re a good team. We know how to handle it. Most of the guys have played in Game 7s before and there shouldn’t really be any nerves.”
Added defenseman Kevan Miller, “We can kind of just feed off those guys — there are so many veteran guys who have been here before and gone through these situations, so I don’t know if it’s about talking [to them] but more about following their lead.”
2012 - Repeat Falls Short
In 2012, Boston faced Washington in the first round, with the series going seven games. For the first time in Stanley Cup Playoffs history, every game was decided by one goal. That year, the end result wasn’t so fortunate. The two teams traded wins throughout the first four games of the series, and facing elimination, Boston managed a Game 6 road win to force a Game 7, eventually losing in overtime on a Joel Ward strike.
“I’ve been a part of both wins and losses,” said veteran forward Daniel Paille. “So for us, it’s just making sure that we stay calm and ready to play a full game.”
2011 - The Drought Ends
During Boston’s 2011 run to the Stanley Cup, they became the first team in NHL history to win three Game 7s in one playoff year — and incidentally, the first of those three came against Montreal.
Boston dropped the first two games in Boston, only putting up one goal in the process, before heading on the road to Montreal and reeling off two straight wins at the Bell Centre, one of which was a 5-4 overtime thriller in Game 4. They won Game 5 back at TD Garden in double overtime to take a 3-2 series lead. The Habs responded to the pressure and took Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Boston.
In that Game 7, the Bruins got off to a great start, putting the Habs into an early hole thanks to goals from Johnny Boychuk and Mark Recchi, but Montreal had tied it at 2-2 by the time six minutes were gone in the second period, on a power play goal from Yannick Weber and a deflating shorthanded strike, courtesy of Tomas Plekanec.
With about 10 minutes left in regulation, Chris Kelly gave the B’s a 3-2 lead, but with less than three minutes remaining, Bergeron was sent to the box for a high-sticking call on James Wisniewski. The Canadiens made Boston pay on the man-advantage, with P.K. Subban tallying a power-play goal with 1:57 left in the game to tie it at 3-3 and send it into overtime.
Then, Nathan Horton emerged as the hero.
About six minutes into the extra frame, the right winger fired a vicious shot from the high slot that sent Carey Price and the Canadiens home for the season and set the stage for subsequent Game 7 wins over Tampa Bay (Eastern Conference Finals) and Vancouver (Stanley Cup Finals), ending the Bruins' 39-year Cup drought.
2014 - TBD
For Boston, while the core group remains, the cast of characters has changed somewhat. Jarome Iginla now fills Horton’s spot on David Krejci’s right side, and new heroes like Carl Soderberg, Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson have rounded out the lineup. Young defensemen like Miller, Bartkowski, Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton fill vacancies left by veterans who have either departed in free agency or succumbed to injury.
For Montreal, their big-time players are largely the same. Subban is still lethal on the man-advantage, Price is still sharp in net and Plekanec can still burn you at the most inopportune time.
The similarities are there, but this is a new year and a new series. It’s the first Game 7 that Canadiens bench boss Michel Therrien will coach, and it is Montreal’s first Game 7 since their 2011 season ended that fateful night in Boston.
No one knows how this chapter in history will end, but one thing is for certain: The Bruins will give this Game 7 everything they have, just like they did for the previous eight under Julien.
“The last thing you want is regrets,” Julien said on Tuesday, as his team prepped for Wednesday night's Game 7. “If you hold back and you don’t do the things you know you can do and you don’t leave it all out on the ice, then you have regrets."
"So that’s what desperation is all about, is leaving it all out there on the ice, and you can walk away knowing you gave it your best shot.”