VANCOUVER, British Columbia — It’s too bad Bill Russell doesn’t skate. He’s Mr. Game 7. He would have been the best guy to give the Bruins a pep talk before last night’s Stanley Cup Final final.
The Final final. There’s a certain finality about that, no?
“You can’t let it grab you,’’ said 43-year-old Bruin Mark Recchi. “You can’t let it bite you. It’s what you play for and what we’ve worked hard for all year.’’
Though last night was a spectacular success, Game 7 has not been the Bruins’ friend in recent springtimes. They were taken out in Game 7 by the Canadiens (5-0) in a first-round series in 2008. In 2009, it was the awful Game 7 finish when Carolina beat them in the Garden in overtime. Then came the epic flop in Game 7 against the Flyers in 2010. The Bruins led in that one, 3-0.
Last year’s loss meant that Claude Julien’s Bruins had bowed out in a Game 7 in three consecutive springs, twice at home.
This year, the Bruins turned it around in their early series. They won a Game 7 against the Canadiens when Nathan Horton scored in overtime at the Garden. They won the instant-classic conference final, beating Tampa Bay, 1-0, (Horton again) in a penalty-free beauty that will forever stand as one of the Garden’s greatest nights.
Last night was the toughest. They had to do Game 7 on the road at Rogers Arena. They snapped a five-game road losing streak, and became the first team in NHL history to win three Game 7s in one postseason.
Mr. Russell knows how hard it is to win one of these on the road. The old Celtics usually had the NBA’s best regular-season record, and they were at home the first eight times Russell won a Game 7 (including 1965, when Havlicek stole the ball).
At the end of his career, Russell stopped outrunning everybody during the regular season. He saved it for the playoffs. This meant the Celtics ceded home-court advantage. Russell’s last two Game 7 victories were on enemy courts.
In 1968, Russell and the Celtics beat Wilt Chamberlain and the 76ers in Game 7 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
A year later, it was the famous “balloon game,’’ the ultimate Russell Game 7. It was the last game of his career, and he led his ancient, crumbling team (fourth place during the regular season) over a Lakers team with Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had hung balloons from the Forum ceiling, and Red Auerbach gleefully (though metaphorically) put his cigar to them when it was over.
The Celtics didn’t lose a Game 7 until Russell was gone. In 1973, the 68-win Celtics lost Game 7 at home to the Knicks after John Havlicek blew out his shoulder. A few of you might remember that the Celtics lost Game 7 in Staples Center last spring. Ouch.
The Red Sox were allergic to Game 7s for eight decades. They played in only one Game 7 between 1912 and 1967, and that was the 1946 World Series finale when Johnny Pesky (perhaps) hesitated on a relay while Enos “Country’’ Slaughter scored from first on a cheesy double.
Boston baseball’s next Game 7 was a 7-2 loss to the Cardinals in the 1967 World Series when Jim Lonborg started on two days’ rest. That was followed eight years later by the excruciating 4-3 loss in Game 7 against the Reds that ended the greatest World Series ever played. In ’86, the Sox had a 3-0 lead over the Mets in Game 7, only to lose, 8-5.
Brutal. Four World Series Game 7s over a 40-year period, all losses.
The Sox then lost the infamous 2003 ALCS Game 7 in the Bronx when Grady Little went too long with Pedro Martinez and Aaron Boone took Tim Wakefield deep in the 11th.
Things changed after that. The Sox crushed the Yankees in Game 7 during the magic ride of 2004. They did it again to the Indians in the ALDS in 2007. Unfortunately, the Franconamen’s last Game 7 was the 2008 ALCS loss to the Tampa Bay Rays when J.D. Drew took a third strike from David Price at Tropicana Field. The Sox haven’t won a playoff game since that night.
The Bruins and their fans have lived through Game 7 heaven and Game 7 hell. Before the Claude era, the worst ones were the 1979 loss in Montreal (the “too many men on the ice’’ game) and the shocking Game 7 loss at home to Ken Dryden and the Canadiens in 1971.
The Bruins knew they had the best team in ’71. That’s what hurt so much about losing Game 7.
The Celtics knew the other guys probably had the best team in 1969 — which is what made the victory so sweet.
That’s Game 7. It can be your greatest triumph or your worst nightmare. It’s what the Bruins won last night — the first Stanley Cup Final Game 7 in franchise history.