BOSTON - At this point, there really is no reason to expect anything different.
As Patrice Bergeron aptly pointed out on Monday afternoon, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins finished as the seventh- and third-best teams, respectively, in the National Hockey League this season.
The clubs were careening toward a first-round matchup for the majority of the season's second half. And once the showdown became official during the final week of March, there weren't many who expected anything less than a lengthy best-of-seven series between two evenly matched divisions rivals.
Well, here we are.
For the second straight season and third time in the last seven, the Bruins and Maple Leafs will play a decisive seventh game.
"Two good teams going against each other. I think that's the only answer I have to that," said Bergeron, who will suit up for his 11th career Game 7 on Tuesday night at TD Garden. "I don't think anyone's surprised by that."
Video: Bergeron looking forward to Game 7
Boston has won the previous two seventh games against the Leafs this decade, but no one was putting much stock into past results following Monday's practice at Warrior Ice Arena. That being said, the Bruins - with a dressing room dotted with Stanley Cup champions - will certainly rely on their big-game experience to help them through.
"Experience matters. I think it was just the compete level [in Game 6]. Our guys, they knew what was at stake if we didn't perform," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "I think it showed that they were ready to play. I think we responded well after every loss in the series. That's a testament to the guys. Going forward, experience matters."
The majority of Boston's roster - as well as Toronto's - has last season's epic Game 7 fresh in their minds. After the Bruins opened up a 3-1 series lead, Toronto stormed back for two straight wins and held the lead entering the third period of the deciding game at TD Garden.
But Boston eventually found its way, breaking through with four unanswered goals in the third period to secure their fifth straight postseason series victory over their Original Six rivals.
"It helps me because I haven't been around that long," said Cassidy. "Some of the players have been through it more than I have. I assume it will help Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen, these guys have been through it. Our veteran guys have been through it a few times. I assume they'll draw on different experiences.
"At the end of the day, it's a new scenario, new teams. They're a year older, we're a year older…it helps a little bit. You take what you can from it, what you need to and then off you go."
Video: Cassidy readying team for Game 7
Should their lineup remain the same as it did in Game 6, the Bruins will suit up just three players without Game 7 appearances: Brandon Carlo, Joakim Nordstrom, and Karson Kuhlman.
"It's do or die. You've got to go out there and leave it all out there," Bergeron said of his message to those players. "I think it's a battle of will out there…it's whatever it takes and it's about poise and making sure you use that stress and nervousness the right way and feed off of it and use the energy that way. You need to make sure you still play the right way even though there's lots on the line."
Ultimately, the Bruins will be focused much more on what they can take from their Game 6 victory on Sunday afternoon. As Cassidy and many of his players pointed out, the 4-2 triumph at Scotiabank Arena was far closer to the identity of the team that finished the regular season with 107 points.
"We felt really good about or game," said Torey Krug, who notched his first goal of the playoffs in the win. "I think it was one of the more complete efforts, it was close to our DNA as a team. It' something we want to bottle and carry into the next game."
"To me, that's the recipe that has been successful for us most of the year, even in this playoff series," added Bergeron. "They're a good team that doesn't give you much. The space is very tight on the ice and when we simplify our game and bring it into their zone, that's where you want to play obviously. I think it's about doing a lot of what [we did] in Game 6, for sure."
In the end, though, there really is no way to script or predict what will happen inside the walls of TD Garden on Tuesday night. With both teams fighting to keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive, anything is possible.
"Game 7…it's what you play for," said Zdeno Chara. "Everything is on the line."
Video: Krug excited to play in another Game 7
- After opting to stay off the ice ahead of Game 5, the Bruins went through a 20-minute session at Warrior Ice Arena on Monday afternoon, with Cassidy saying the group seems to perform better with a full practice under their belts as opposed to more rest. "To stay sharp, stay focused," Bergeron said of why the team practices. "I think when you get on the ice it just avoids thinking too much and overthinking. You get out there, you breath, and you execute and then your instincts take over and that's what you need tomorrow."
- David Krejci was the lone player not to practice on Monday. Cassidy said afterward that the center was given a maintenance day. "He's fine. He'll be ready to go tomorrow," confirmed the coach.
- As such, Cassidy did not expect there to be any lineup changes for Game 7, but held off on confirming his lines and combinations until Tuesday morning.