By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Hockey fans, generally speaking, are fairly intense people. That’s why most of them cannot physically handle the stress, agony, joy and overall emotional anguish that a Game 7 puts them through.
For some fans, just watching on television is abject torture.
But what’s it like for the players who are, you know, actually playing the game? Are there any moments of joy, or does the unrelenting pressure of playing with the entire season on the line weigh them down too heavily and require a laser-focus so as to eliminate any and all joy from playing?
Well, the answer depends on which players you talk to.
“I think, you win ’em, you enjoy ’em. You lose ’em, you’re obviously disappointed,” 42-year-old Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said after Tuesday’s 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Chara should know. By suiting up on Tuesday, Chara played in his 13th career Game 7, tying Hall of Famers Patrick Roy and Scott Stevens for most all time. Chara had actually lost the first five Game 7’s of his career prior to the 2011 season, when he and the Bruins won three Game 7’s en route to winning Boston’s first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
Since 2011, Chara and the Bruins have gone 3-2 in do-or-die Game 7 scenarios, including wins over the Maple Leafs in consecutive seasons.
Despite the lengthy history, Chara downplayed any significance of playing in so many Game 7’s.
“It’s been quite a few Game 7’s, and you don’t do anything special to play them or deserve them. It just ends up being a situation with your team that you play a close series a number of times,” Chara said flatly. “And it happened for me 13 times, so it’s just a stat.”
Alternate captain and fellow longtime member of the Bruins Patrice Bergeron did say that Game 7’s are fun to participate in … but he did it somewhat reluctantly.
“Yeah. I guess that’s why you play the game, right?” Bergeron said. “It’s for big moments like that, and you gotta enjoy them and cherish every second of it. Obviously it’s a battle out there — it’s not easy by any means — but it’s a lot of fun.”
Bergeron managed to pull off a rare feat to cap the game, too, as he scored an empty-net goal as time expired. It was scored so late that it didn’t require a faceoff after it was scored.
Pretty crazy, right, Patrice?
“It’s, I guess, I’ll take it,” Bergeron said. “But that being said, I thought it was a great game overall.”
Again, fair enough. Bergeron and Chara have won a Cup, though, so maybe that’s their real definition of fun.
What about, say, a player who grew up 15 miles away from the Garden? What about, maybe, a player who’s never played in more than two rounds of any postseason? What about a player who fits that description and also managed to pot the empty-netter to seal this win?
Surely, he’d admit that playing in these stress-filled cauldrons is at least somewhat enjoyable, right?
“Yeah. That’s why you play these games. When you’re playing in the driveway and you’re playing street hockey, you say it’s Game 7. You want to play in that. So to be doing the real thing, it’s a lot of fun. That’s why we play the game,” Weymouth’s own Charlie Coyle said in the victorious dressing room. “You know, you hate to lose and you want to win, but you have fun doing it. I think you play better, and you stay light, you’re not holding the stick too light, you just go out and play. This team has a lot of fun doing it, and it’s fun to play with these guys.”
And the feeling of putting the bow on that win with an empty-net goal?
“Yeah, I mean obviously it was nice. It just happened to be on my stick,” Coyle said. “But to win that game, Game 7, in dramatic fashion, I think everyone was on their toes and kept it interesting. I think the fans and us had a great time doing it.”
There we go.
Do you know who else had fun in this Game 7? That would be Sean Kuraly. The fourth-liner is not exactly know for his goal-scoring prowess (he has 14 goals in 154 regular-season games), but he fired a wrister past Frederik Andersen to make the score 3-1 early in the third period. It was a goal that really put the game out of reach for the visitors, and it was one that had Kuraly feeling all sorts of feelings.
“I just found myself in the slot all of a sudden and just put it on net really, and they don’t always … they don’t usually go in for me,” Kuraly said. “But that was a good one and a big one and I think you can see by the way I reacted how I felt about that goal. And so if you want to know, just, you can watch it again I think.”
OK, let’s do it:
Sean Kuraly: Confirmed fun-haver.
Now, as one might imagine, how a player admits to feeling during a Game 7 has a lot to do with the result of that Game 7. We need not explore this case too thoroughly, so let’s just grab a comment from one member of the Maple Leafs to capture the spirit.
“It sucks,” Toronto forward Mitch Marner said. “You know, we had a lot of confidence in our team, it sucks. But it’s going to stay with us until next year, and we’re going to come back pissed off.”
In any event, watching a Game 7 can be agonizing for fans. Based on what the Bruins said after sending the Maple Leafs home for the summer, playing in the game can actually be quite fun.
(Just so long as you win.)