By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s time for another Game 7 at TD Garden.
On top of some anxiety, stomach pain, and downright nauseous feelings any time a Maple Leaf crosses into the attacking zone, you pretty much know what to expect, and that’s some heartbreak from the Boston Bruins. By now, their history is well known. Since ‘09, the Bruins have won just three of their seven Game 7 games played at home.
That’s great for the record books, but also largely meaningless on Apr. 25, 2018.
When Scott Walker’s overtime goal knocked the Bruins out of the 2009 playoffs, David Pastrnak was two weeks away from celebrating his 13th birthday. Rick Nash was in Columbus, David Backes was in St. Louis, and Charlie McAvoy was a child. Same when the Bruins blew it against the Flyers in 2010. Actually, to be fair, McAvoy skated on Garden ice that year… as a member of Mark Messier’s Pee Wee Rangers team.
If I need to spell it out, let me: The past is the past, and there’s nothing about it that should legitimately make you feel anything but confident going into tonight.
OK, so the core of this Bruins team has been in trouble before and lost, I’ll give you that.
Rask’s record in elimination games — 6-14 with an .884 save percentage — is not exactly enough to restore the faith of most of you, I know. But let’s go on immediate history for just a second: After absolutely sucking in Game 5, Rask rebounded with a 27-of-29 performance in Game 6. He honestly gave the Bruins half an hour to tie the game, headlined by stellar late-game stops on Kasperi Kapanen and Auston Matthews.
And including the playoffs, Rask is 7-3-0 with a .923 save percentage in his last 10 starts coming after he took a loss in the prior game. And he’s stopped 58-of-61 shots (a .951 save percentage) in the two games following a loss this series.
The Bruins, as a team, have had just two prior stretches of at least three losses in a row this year. When skating in a game following two-straight defeats this season, the Bruins posted a 6-3 record and outscored teams 35-to-16 overall.
In other words, they’ve been among the best at not letting things fester.
“For us, you know, the message has been — we’ve respected, kind of, the process all year, but we use different terms — ‘Play the game in front of you,’” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I think we’ve done a good job of that. Tonight, we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Listen, the end goal is we need to win the hockey game, and we have manufactured wins all year with different people in the lineup, different circumstances, coming back on the road, scoring big in the first period, winning 2-1, whatever the situation dictates. Our guys know how to win, so that’s not the issue for us.
“It’s, “Okay, when the puck drops, play the shift in front of you. Do your job, trust the guy beside you. Execute.” I think, you know, we need to execute well in these games, and, mentally, you’ve got to be in the right spot to do that.”
Cassidy believes he’s put his team in a position to do just that, too.
He’s reunited the Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-Rick Nash trio on his second line, and plugged Danton Heinen to the left of Riley Nash and David Backes on line three. His first and fourth lines — two absolute constants in terms of their performance and delivering in big moments — will remain untouched. Same for his defensive pairings, which will feature a puckmover paired with a defense-first talent, even in a series where stretch passes have proven deadly.
“I think the team that changes the least for Game 7 is probably going to be the one that wins,” Bruins forward David Backes offered this morning. “We can’t throw everything out the window and try something new for Game 7. We gotta stick to our principles. We just gotta get the results and finish plays off when we get those looks.”
There should be confidence in what the Bruins have done to this point, too.
With the exception of Game 4, the Bruins have been the dominant team in this series. They’ve consistently pinned the Maple Leafs in their own zone and forced Frederik Andersen to stand on his head just to give the Leafs a chance. This plays to the B’s, a puck-possession based team, advantage, especially with the benefit of last change in Boston.
This gives the Bruins the benefit of putting the Bergeron line — a trio that scored a combined 99 goals in the regular season — out there after the Leafs go to their icing-heavy ways. Or when they see that Toronto is going with their fourth line or third defensive pairing at key moments. This, again, plays to the Black and Gold’s advantage.
But with all that said, the Bruins know there’s pressure on their squad. I mean, how could there not be? You’re talking about a Game 7 in a series you began with a 2-0 lead, held a 3-1 lead, and then failed on two attempted knockouts in the last five days alone. But pressure doesn’t mean you automatically crack, and Cassidy told his players exactly that.
“Pressure can’t become a word you fear, you know. It just can’t,” Cassidy added. “You’ve got to play, and I think we’ve prepared ourselves well. This is the 89th time this year we’re going out on the ice to play a hockey game, so we’re ready. We have the information. We’ve just got to get out there and execute.”
It just so happens that a Game 7 at TD Garden is where that execution is going to have to be delivered.
A situation these Bruins would happily take regardless of any sort of history.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.