BOSTON All anyone can ask in a winner take all Game 7 situation -- with a berth for the Stanley Cup Finals on the line is that it doesnt turn into a penalty-filled affair bogged down by sloppy play or tic-tac penalties called by whistle happy referees.
A game decided during five-on-five play with teams fighting for survival is what playoff hockey is all about. Only the strong survive to vie for the Stanley Cup, and thats exactly the way it should play out tonight in 60 minutes of pulse-pounding hockey with a little thing called puck immortality on the line.
The Bruins know the Black and Golden chance to play for the Stanley Cup doesnt arrive very often, and that this could be the last chance for aging elite players like 37-year-old Tim Thomas and 33-year-old Zdeno Chara.
Only Mark Recchi and Shawn Thornton have won Cups among the players currently dotting the Bruins roster, but others like Andrew Ference have come perilously close in the past. Ference lost in the Cup Finals as a member of the Calgary Flames to Marty St. Louis and the Lightning back in the 2004, and all of the grizzled Bs vets know tonight that the game is the thing.
All is forgotten except for one game. You lay it on the line for one game. Have fun with it, said Recchi, who along with Chara mark the only players that have participated in a conference final Game 7 during their careers. You dream about playing in Game 7s with an opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup Finals. Guys are really relishing it.
Its been a long time since this team has been in the Finals. Everybody is excited. Its going to be a great atmosphere on the ice. We finally have nice weather outside, so people are going to be in an even better mood all around. People are excited.
If recent history in the Stanley Cup playoffs is any guide to the present and near future, the Bruins wont have to worry about tonights game morphing into a power play fiesta as it was at the St. Pete Times Forum in Game 6.
No large amount of devious mind games from Guy Boucher or pointed comments about the refs will pull the whistles out of the pockets, and conjure up a cross-checking call for what normally passes for legal hockey violence in front of the net.
The majority of Game 7 at TD Garden tonight between the Bs and Tampa Bay Lightning wont be a power play extravaganza given the past hockey history in these situations. A straight hockey game with little special teams influence leans heavily toward a Bruins team thats been a plus-98 during the postseason in 5-on-5 play after they were the best 5-on-5 team in the Eastern Conference this season.
That is the very reason the Bruins have survived this long with a putrid 8 percent power play efficiency in the playoffs. Its also the reason theyll ride the power play reliant Lightning right out of town.
I hope they just let us play. Obviously if theres a penalty it needs to be called, said Milan Lucic. But look at the penalty on Dennis Seidenberg there. He gets a cross-check call in front of the net. I dont know how many times Ive been cross-checked in front of the net and its never been called.
We dont want the referees to be a big part of what happens in the game. We cant control what they do, but Im sure theyre going to let us play. Its going to be decided the way it should be in 5-on-5 play.
The Lightning just as in the regular season have struggled in 5-on-5 play during the playoffs, and sit at only a plus-18 headed into their first conference final Game 7 since they won the Cup over the Flames back in 2004.
Past history tells us that special teams likely wont be the deciding factor between the two Eastern Conference squads for a chance to battle the Vancouver Canucks beginning Wednesday night.
The refs simply put their whistles in their pockets during these pivotal Game 7 moments, and let the men on the ice decide who should win. Thats how the Bruins want it decided, and thats how it will likely if past is prologue to an officials approach to Game 7.
You dont want Game 7 to be decided in silly waysdefinitely not, said Recchi. Five on five is the way that it should be decided. If we play the right way on the edge and they play the right way, there arent going to be a lot of penalties. Its just a matter of playing our game, playing disciplined, playing smart and playing on the edge we have all year.
The BruinsBolts is actually the first Game 7 in the conference finals since the Carolina Hurricanes featuring future Bruins Mark Recchi and Aaron Ward defeated the Buffalo Sabres way back in the 2006 Cup playoffs. Its been five years since the NHL featured a Game 7 to play for the sweetest piece of hockey hardware.
In all there have been four Game 7s played during conference final play over the last 10 years, and three of the four games featured three or less power play chances for each team. Two of the games featured two power plays each for both teams, and special teams didnt factor heavily into the games result.
The only conference final game refereed by tonights senior referee, Stephen Walkom, featured two power plays for each side with the Lightning pulling out a 2-1 victory over the Flyers.
Dan OHalloran is Walkoms partner on the officiating crew for tonights game, and it will be first time presiding over a Game 7 conference title game with the a Cup Final berth on the line. One further stat of interest: 11 conference finals have lasted seven games since 1982 and 7 of those 11 Game 7 winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
So not only should the tone of the game be ever so tilted toward the Bruins way of doing things against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it would seem the hockey gods will be with whomever finds a way to win tonights Game 7 event.
Zdeno Chara practiced tipping pucks during Friday morning skate, and normally doesnt camp out down low during practice unless he again is planning to take the low position on the Bs power play.
Hes a big body. Hes probably the heaviest guy in the game tonight, said Lucic of Chara. I think he supplies the same thing he does as a defenseman when he stands in front on the power play. For a big man hes got good hands around the net. I felt like he made a difference in front of the net during the power plays in the last game.
Chara used his 6-foot-9 body to good effect creative havoc in front of the Tampa net, but the Bruins need more shots on net during any potential PPs awarded to them. The Bruins finished with five shots on net in five power plays during their Game 6 loss, and thats not close to good enough.
Mark Recchi has zero points in 17 games and over 40 minutes of power play time during this postseason with the Bruins, and the 43-year-old hopes the Game 7 atmosphere can raise a little extra out of both him and the power play. The power play is 5-for-61 during the postseason for an 8.1 percent success rate, and Recchi knows the forward carry much of the burden in the struggles.
"You take it to heart. Its an important piece of the puzzle, said Recchi of the power play. We've got an opportunity in one game to erase all of the power play junk weve done over the last 3-4 months really. Even if you dont score its how well youre moving it around.
In the first game against the Lightning I wasnt very good. After that Ive been okay. I havent been good and I havent been bad. Thats all washed away in one game. You lay it on the line. Earlier in the playoffs our line was terrific and carried the burden of the team, and now other guys have stepped up and played well. Now its one game and lets all do it together. We all have this one opportunity.
Speaking of shots, the Bruins need a lot more of them after only managing to squeeze off 20 total shots during the Game 6 loss in Tampa Bay. During the course of the playoffs, only one Bs forward is among the top 20 NHL players in shots attempted during the playoffs. Patrice Bergeron sits 20th in the NHL with 43 shots attempted in only 15 games played an amazing stat given that he played two less games than the rest of the Bruins forwards due to a mild concussion.
Claude Julien spoke glowingly of Tomas Kaberle during his pregame comments, and rated the much-maligned defenseman as pretty good for the Bruins in three of the last four games against the Lightning.
If the Bruins pull out the win tonight they happily surrender a 2012 second-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs as a condition of the Tomas Kaberle trade to the Bruins. The Bs surrendered their 2012 second-round selection if they A) reached the Stanley Cup Finals or B) resigned Kaberle to a contract extension after the season is finished.
Thats somebody I can talk about positively, said Julien. Hes certainly one of those guys that I think last game played pretty good. I liked his game. He moved the puck well. He was in there and created some opportunities for us.
I thought he made some good decisions in our own end. I know there has been a tendency to be hard on this guy at times, but I would say three out of the last four gamers hes been a real good player for us.