Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals Game 7 preview

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Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals Game 7 preview

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.

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons. 

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while hoping that Purple Passion doesn’t try the same comeback as Zima.

*A Seattle investor says that an NHL team coming to that city is much more likely than a return by the NBA to the Pacific Northwestern city.

*Gare Joyce writes eloquently about the loneliness of a hockey scout, and how that world can sometimes come to a crashing halt.  

*Good piece from Arpon Basu giving the sights and sounds of Claude Julien’s second stint behind the bench with the Montreal Canadiens.

*The agent for Russian player Maxim Shalunov says there is a “10 percent chance” that he’s going to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

*Mike Babcock says not to expect any big trade deadline deals from the Toronto Maple Leafs as they push for a playoff spot.

*Henrik Zetterberg reflects on a difficult season with the Detroit Red Wings where it looks like things might finally come down to a crashing halt.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2017/02/17/red-wings-zetterberg-reflects-tough-season/98064530/

*The Minnesota Wild have underrated depth on their team, and the Hockey News says it might just be their scariest attribute.

*For something completely different: as referenced above, it looks like that Zima drink of the 1990s is trying to make a comeback. I was in college when the Zima people were seemingly flooding campuses with advertising and samples back in the day.