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Chara, Bruins bring experience into Game 7 against Maple Leafs

Defenseman to play in NHL record-tying 13th deciding game

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Now that he's preparing for the third Game 7 of his NHL career, Torey Krug knows what to expect. The Boston Bruins defenseman feels calmer, more contained, with fewer of the nerves that marked his first two experiences with the win-or-go-home scenario in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, against the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Second Round in 2014 and against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round last season.

"Last year was pretty intense," Krug said about the Bruins' 7-4 victory. "I remember probably a little bit of jitters, for sure. I think that's normal. If you're not feeling it then I think you're lying to yourself and you're lying to everyone around you. But it's about keying in on that and trying to use it to your advantage. Definitely a little bit calmer, more mature going into this one."

Given that, he can only imagine what it feels like for defenseman Zdeno Chara, who is getting ready for his 13th Game 7, which the Bruins will play against Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference First Round at TD Garden on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, NESN).

 

[RELATED: Full Bruins vs. Maple Leafs series coverage]

 

"He's seen it all, right?" Krug said. "He's been a calming influence every single time he steps on the ice for our team -- up a goal, down a goal. He just makes you feel a little more comfortable out there, creates room for everyone. When you see he has that look in his eye, it definitely brings another dimension to this team. And that's what we need in him as a leader."

Still, Chara was rather terse when asked about what all that experience has taught him.

"Everything matters," he said.

He knows that better than almost everyone. When Chara plays on Tuesday he will tie Patrick Roy and Scott Stevens for the all-time NHL record.  

Chara is 5-7 in his previous 12 Game 7s, starting with two losses playing for the Ottawa Senators. With the Bruins, he is 5-5, including a win in the most important Game 7 of his career -- the Stanley Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. 

"It's exciting, Game 7," Chara said. "It's what you play for: Everything on the line."

But he's not the only member of the Bruins with a deep well of experience to draw on in such situations. Center Patrice Bergeron has played in 10, forward David Krejci in nine, forward Brad Marchand in seven; they each have five wins.

The Maple Leafs, with most of their young core playing their first Game 7 in Boston last season, do not have the same depth of experience.

Only forward Patrick Marleau (seven) and defensemen Jake Muzzin (4), Ron Hainsey (3) and Jake Gardiner (2) have played in more than one Game 7. Mike Babcock is 3-6 in his previous nine Game 7s.

That could help the home team.

"It's a battle of will out there," Bergeron said. "Especially more so in Game 7. It's whatever it takes. It's about poise. … You've got to use that stress and nervousness the right way and feed off of it and use the energy that way. You've got to make sure you still play the right way even though there's lots on the line."

Video: BOS@TOR, Gm4: Chara pots slap shot through traffic

The key is to get through the beginning of the game, to get the first four or five minutes gone -- preferably without any mistakes -- as the players settle in, as the crowd settles in, as the game settles down. But throughout the game, there's still an uptick in emotion.

Because the players on both sides know that this is it. There's no recovery if this game doesn't go their way.

"It's do or die. We had that mentality last game, for sure," Krug said about Boston's 4-2 win in Game 6 on Sunday. "But at the end of the day it's about playing good, sound hockey that's right in front of you. We had 82 (games) plus the six in playoffs. You try to treat it like another game, just so that you play to your capabilities and your potential.

"But there's something obviously special about a Game 7. That's why fans love watching it. That's why players love playing in them."

Coach Bruce Cassidy, coaching in his second Game 7, isn't necessarily worried about what he'll tell the Bruins about what it needs to do against the Maple Leafs in Game 7. He knows that they know. He knows that they've been there, that they will provide the message that needs to come across. He knows that even being in one Game 7, last season against the Maple Leafs, will help players like forwards Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen and defenseman Charlie McAvoy.

"It helps a little bit," he said. "You take what you can from it or what you need to, and off you go."

It's about managing stress, channeling it, finding a source of motivation in what they've seen and been through before. Chara knows that. Bergeron knows that. Krejci knows that. Marchand knows that.

The rest of the Bruins -- whether they've been in one or two or three or no Game 7s -- will continue to figure out exactly what a Game 7 means. Fortunately, they'll have experience on their side -- and Chara and Bergeron in their ears.

"[There] could be nerves tomorrow," Cassidy said. "Hopefully they're gone in a hurry for our younger guys. I imagine everybody will have some level of butterflies, even the older guys. But once the puck drops, they've been there. Let's hope it helps us."

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