The Bruins get plenty of credit for being big game players and thriving when the spotlight burns brightest. Theyve earned it after excelling in gut-check Game 7 scenarios last season, but theyll need to prove it again with another Game 7 on tap against the Washington Capitals Wednesday night at TD Garden.
It will be an interesting challenge for both teams. The Bruins have plenty of pressure on them as they attempt to be only the third reigning Stanley Cup champ in the last nine years to get out of the first round of the playoffs the following season, and the Capitals are staring down the barrel of team reconstruction they cant advance past the first round.
The Bruins guaranteed one thing: their hunger hasnt dissipated in the slightest after climbing the Stanley Cup mountain-top last year.
"I dont see a difference in our guys. Our team really fought hard through the first round last year and we had a tougher uphill climb than weve had this year," Claude Julien said. "So basically weve gone through it and I think what happens is you get through the crunch here. For us to get through tomorrow will only make us better moving forward. Thats what we have to look at right now.
"Personally I dont think anythings changed from last years hunger to this years hunger I still see the same thing in our players. I do not sense a single person in our dressing that doesnt want to go through it again. Ive been around this team long enough that I would if that was a case.
The advantage for the Bruins? Theyve been through the playoff rigmarole countless times and theyll be approaching Game 7 much more closely to a regular season game than a Washington Capitals team whose very reputation is on the line.
Just read into Chris Kellys planned routine on this amped up Game 7:
Long nap, lunch same thing Ive done for the last 600 or 700 plus games that Ive played. The exact same thing skate, eat, nap, come back.
The Bruins might even mix in a victory as they look to make it four Game 7 victories in a row.
PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom have a combined four points in eight Game 7 appearances during their Capitals careers, and they havent shown up when it mattered most during prime time. Alex Ovechkin comes into Wednesdays Game 7 with four points in four career Game 7 appearances, but Mike Green also has only a single assist in four Game 7s with Washington during a career thats always underwhelmed when the pressure has been on. As a franchise the Capitals could certainly use their tires being pumped while putting up a career 1-3 record in four Game 7 chances.
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: You cant get too high or too low in these situations. I think being through these types of games in hockey throughout our lives is a good thing. I woke up ready to come to the rink and skate this morning and do all the fun things that I do every other day when I come in the rink. Chris Kelly is ready to treat Wednesdays Game 7 just like a run-of-the-mill game.
KEY MATCHUP: It becomes a match of whichever Bs forward line is on the ice when Dennis Wideman is on the ice as a defensemen pairing for the Capitals. Wideman has been on the ice for all but one of Bostons five-on-five goals during the series thus far, and completely lost track of Tyler Seguin during overtime in Game 6 when the 20-year-old whacked home the game-winner.
STAT TO WATCH: 6 That's the current number of consecutive shutout periods for Tim Thomas in Game 7s.
INJURIES: Goaltender Michael Neuvirth is back for the Capitals as their backup goaltender, but veteran Tomas Vokoun doesnt appear close to returning with a groin injury. Patrice Bergeron is expected to play despite an injury suffered during Game 5 that kept him from taking face-offs. Defenseman Adam McQuaid remains out for the Bruins with an upper-body injury and Nathan Horton has been ruled out for the playoffs.
GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tim Thomas is the 11th ranked playoff goalie with a .922 save percentage, but hes 3-2 with a 2.04 goals against average and a .935 save percentage in six career appearances in Game 7s. He should be primed and ready for another titanic Game 7 performance while 22-year-old rookie Braden Holtby will be playing in the first Game 7 of his NHL career. The young goaltender has been outstanding in the series with a .935 save percentage after six games of hotly-contested playoff hockey with the Bruins.