BROSSARD – Habs versus Bruins in a deciding playoff game; it’s what players live for.
“Great moments are born from great opportunity,” the great Herb Brooks once said.
As it usually is, great opportunity means great pressure. The Habs will not only have to contend with a Bruins team which finished with an NHL-best 117 regular season points, but also with the tough, loud home crowd at the TD Garden. With 21 thousand screaming fans watching live and millions more following the action at home, the final game of the Montreal-Boston series is anticipated to be an instant classic, another chapter in the two Original Six franchises’ age-long rivalry written in blood, sweat and tears.
Standing at the edge of a precipice, down three games to two, the Habs stared down the Bruins in a must-win Game 6 and, in doing so, have pushed their opponents to the brink as well. Whoever scores the most goals in the next sixty minutes of play earns a trip to the Eastern Conference finals. The losers get to go home and think about the loss until training camp.
“Mentally, it is a little bit difficult, but you just have to focus on winning, on the positive things we need to do to win this game,” offered winger Brandon Prust regarding potential distractions. The Canadiens showed plenty of positive things in their Game 6 win at the Bell Centre, out-shooting, out-skating and out-hustling the visiting team en route to a convincing 4-0 win. There were occasional cheap shots and post-whistle shenanigans, but now would be the worst of times for either team to succumb to indiscipline. “The chippy play might carry over in the regular season, but this is Game 7. No one is going to go out there, slash people and take dumb penalties. I’m sure both teams will be focusing on being disciplined. The Bruins are tough but we’re a pretty in-your-face hockey team as well. We’re not too worried about what the Bruins are doing, we just want to bring the same intensity that we brought in Game 6.”
“Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them, and we shut them down because we can. Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world,” Coach Brooks uttered those famous words before his Team USA upset the Soviets at Lake Placid on February 22, 1980. On that day, in Rochester, New York, four hours by car from the site of the Winter Games, Brian Gionta had recently turned one.
“We’ve felt confident all series against these guys. We know we can bring it to them when there’s no tomorrow. There’s nothing to be afraid of,” insisted Gionta, now a grown man of 35, a Stanley Cup champion, and the currently captain of the Montreal Canadiens. A veteran of 776 NHL regular season, 105 playoff games and six Game 7s, the right-winger relishes the winner-takes-all mentality of a do-or-die postseason match-up.
“[Game 7s are] fun, you have to go out there and enjoy the moment. Every kid dreams of it. They’re special to be a part of,” Gionta revealed. “It’s win or go home. If you’re a competitive person, and you’re not in this profession if you aren’t, then that’s what you look for.”
Another veteran “gamer” in the Montreal locker room is centerman Daniel Briere, who has 113 points in 117 playoff appearances, including four in nine games this spring.
“You see two kinds of players in these deciding games: those who crumble under the pressure and those who raise their games. I liked what I saw from the team on Monday. Everyone took charge of their roles and that was a great sign,” asserted the two-time All Star.
All six games in the series thus far have seen the eventual winner get on the scoreboard first. Though getting the early lead is an important factor, Briere believes that the most critical goal is the next goal, rather than the first goal.
“Scoring first will be important, but it’s not first goal wins either. If we don’t get it tomorrow, it’ll be just a matter of making adjustments and making sure we get the next one,” insisted Briere, now in his eleventh trip to the postseason. Four years to the day before Wednesday’s Game 7, he had been part of one of the most unlikely comebacks in NHL history. Briere’s Philadelphia Flyers were first down 0-3 in a playoff series against Boston, and then down 0-3 in the first period after forcing Game 7 against the Bruins.
“It was probably one of the most memorable games in my life. We were losing 3-0 after ten minutes and were able to come back to win 4-3. It’s improbable that the same thing would happen again, but it was something amazing to be a part of, and I hope we can do it again,” revealed the Gatineau native, who had a goal and an assist in that game.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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