By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Here we are, once more. Boston Bruins. Toronto Maple Leafs. Game 7.
As most everyone knows by now, the Bruins have history on their side, having vanquished the Leafs in Boston in both 2013 and 2018. But as we all know, history won’t have any impact on the play on the ice on Tuesday evening at the TD Garden. Here’s what will.
WHICH BRUINS TEAM SHOWS UP?
If you’re a Bruins fan, you’ve no doubt been frustrated by the Jekyll and Hyde identity crisis the Bruins have undergone this series.
In Game 1, they were uninspired. In Game 2, dynamite. Ditto for Game 4 and Game 6. The showing on home ice in Game 5 left a lot to be desired.
Of course, the Maple Leafs have shown that they are a very good team, and if Toronto does win the series, it will be well-earned. But at the very least, hockey fans in Boston are hoping for the Bruins to show up and play to their capability in the biggest game of the year.
Unprompted, Brad Marchand fired a shot at the ice conditions in Boston.
“Ice has been terrible there,” Marchand said of Boston after the Game 6 win. “So we might as well play with a tennis ball and we’ll just skate around and see who bounces one in the net.”
Yeesh. The crew in charge of maintaining that ice surface can’t be happy about that. But might Marchand have a point? To the naked eye, the Bruins did appear to be stuck in the mud during their Game 5 loss at home, unable to control the puck or corral passes or execute on the power play. (They’ve scored on 71.4 percent of their power play opportunities in Toronto this series, but just 22.2 percent of their power plays at home.)
So, we’ll all have our eyes peeled early to see if the puck is bouncing over sticks or getting stuck in spots. A bad break one way or another tends to have significant impact in Game 7 scenarios.
ONE BAD GOAL
A whole host of things needs to go right — or wrong, depending on your perspective — for a goal to be scored in an NHL game. But sometimes, all it takes is one simple mistake from the last line of defense against the flying rubber disc.
And with the pressure ratcheted up to 11 for this one, such mistakes will be magnified tenfold if they are to take place in front of the hockey world.
The men facing that pressure will be Tuukka Rask and Frederik Andersen.
STATS THIS SERIES
Andersen: .925 save percentage, 2.70 GAA, .950 even strength save percentage, 3-3 record
Rask: .921 save percentage, 2.54 GAA, .934 even strength save percentage, 3-3 record
CAREER GAME 7 STATS
Rask: 2-2 record, .845 save percentage, 3.72 GAA
Andersen: 0-3 record, .839 save percentage, 4.36 GAA
Both goalies are clearly better than what those career Game 7 numbers show, but that will hardly matter if either lets up a softy in this one.
Speaking of the goalies, the Bruins might be wise to stop trying to beat Andersen to his glove side. If anything’s stood out about either goalie through six games, it’s been Andersen’s ability with his glove hand.
The guy’s got a hot glove hand. When given an opportunity, the Bruins might want to shoot somewhere else.
Home-ice advantage hasn’t exactly worked out for either team this series, but for Game 7, Bruce Cassidy will be looking to take advantage of having last change to try to slow the Toronto attack.
Auston Matthews has been the Leafs’ most dangerous threat thus far, with his five goals and one assist in six games. Limiting him will be priority No. 1. Additionally, Cassidy will want to get Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the ice in advantageous situations (Marchand leads the series with nine points). Maybe Cassidy will feel an urge of desperation for scoring and will reunited David Pastrnak with his regular-season linemates.
Now, for as much as we could break down how Cassidy and Mike Babcock will go about this, you just know that it’ll end up being a game decided by goals scored by fourth-liners.
For most of the series, John Tavares has looked like arguably the best player on the ice. It’s surprising, then, to see he’s been somewhat quiet on the stat sheet, scoring one goal with three assists in the six games. If ever there were a candidate to spoil the night for the 17,000 fans in attendance, Tavares would figure to be the guy.
So while Matthews has been the dangerous one thus far, the Bruins can’t afford to take off even one shift when Tavares and Mitch Marner are on the ice. Those two are too good to be kept down for too long.
This being an NHL playoff series, you can bet that both sides are infuriated with the officiating. In Boston, folks still can’t comprehend how a Toronto goal in Game 5 was not disallowed for obvious goaltender interference. Up in Toronto, a picture of a ref wearing a Bruins-themed shirt has been spreading like wildfire.
In reality, the officiating in this series has been pretty good. But we’ll see how the on-ice officials call it in Game 7, which is always a different animal.
Any good hockey fan knows that Game 7 between the Bruins and Lightning in the 2011 postseason was among the very finest ice hockey games ever played. They also know that it was a game which featured zero penalties called.
That’s not the norm, of course, but generally, in a Game 7 scenario, referees may take the approach that they take in the final minutes of a close game and employ it for all 60 minutes. Or they may treat it like a midweek game in January. It’s hard to say.
But, as is always the case in most sports, if a penalty call (or missed call) comes up at a critical moment, it’s going to become a significant chunk of the way this game gets remembered.