He was 25 and experiencing the morning of the most important day in hockey — a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final — for the first time.
But Patrice Bergeron had already been in the NHL for seven years. He had soaked in the knowledge of his linemate, two-time Cup winner Mark Recchi, in his 22nd season. Bergeron went in confident he could handle the rush of it all.
“Lots of emotion, and you’re excited,” he said Tuesday in front of his locker stall at TD Garden, thinking back to the day, June 15, 2011, when the Bruins last won it all. “Lots of nerves also. You try to manage it the right way and use it to your advantage.”
That meant preparing the same way as he always does, the routine that is so comforting to a player during the two-month pressure cooker of the playoffs. That day in Vancouver, he and Brad Marchand went out and scored a pair of goals each in a 4-0 victory, bringing the Bruins their first Cup in 39 years. Just like them, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, and then-backup goalie Tuukka Rask were first-time lifters of the Cup.
They are here now, ready to do it once more.
Boston vs. St. Louis, Wednesday at TD Garden, is the first Game 7 in a Cup Final (and the first one ever in Boston) since that day eight years ago in Vancouver, when Bergeron and Marchand led the way, Tim Thomas was electric in net, and Chara, a fierce grin on his face and eyes shut in supreme bliss, grabbed the 35-pound trophy and shook it so hard over his head that his white “Stanley Cup Champions” cap fell off, and he nearly toppled over.
“You see that picture everywhere, or that video, of Z lifting the Cup,” said 22-year-old defenseman Brandon Carlo, one of eight Bruins age 25 or under, and one of 18 on the team who have never hoisted the trophy. “That’s one that really stands out. So much passion and energy involved with that. You saw that last year with Ovi [Alexander Ovechkin] as well. You can see the expression on their face of accomplishing that goal they’ve had for their entire life.”
In a video piece, Canada’s Sportsnet tabbed Chara’s the sixth-greatest Stanley Cup lifting of all time. The Cup, some 10 feet in the air, has never been higher.
“If he wanted to keep it up there forever,” CBC announcer Jim Hughson narrated in the moment, “nobody could take it away.”
The Blues feel poised to steal the Cup on the road. No one on the roster has his name etched on the Cup, and only one — agitating winger David Perron — has previous experience in the Final. They might argue that experience doesn’t matter, that it is their time. They may not be wrong.
The games have been tight-checking, hard-hitting, and heavy. A bounce here or there could bring the Blues the first Cup in their 52-year history.
At 5-on-5, the Blues are outscoring the Bruins, 11-10. But the Bruins have significant edges on the penalty kill (17 for 18), the power play (7 for 23), and in the speed department. They have players such as Chara, who will set a record for Game 7 appearances (14). They also have a goalie doing a Thomas impersonation.
Rask, who saved 32 of 33 shots in Game 7 against Toronto, pitched shutouts in Columbus (39 saves) and Carolina (24) in the clinching games of those series. He has saved 95 of 96 shots, for a .990 save percentage, when the Bruins have had a chance to close out a series. In games in which the opponent has had a chance to eliminate the Bruins — Toronto in Games 6 and 7, St. Louis in Game 6 — Rask was 82 of 86 (.953).
That’s why he questioned an inquisitor Tuesday who asked what worried him going in.
“Worry about?” he said. “No worries. No, no worries. I don’t think you play this long and battle hard just to come here and start worrying about anything. It’s a game. You go out there, you execute, and hopefully play your best game and see what happens.”
Plus, when the Blues have had a chance to make a statement, the Bruins have risen. In Game 3, the first Cup Final game in St. Louis in 49 years, the Bruins chased goalie Jordan Binnington out of the game. In Game 6, the Blues’ first Cup-clinching opportunity, the Bruins won on the road by four goals.
So this will be a heck of a story, if the Blues can shake those demons — and beat Rask, and overcome a team that has been there, done that.
Forward Noel Acciari, 27, listened to Bergeron pour his heart out before Game 6 — shades of Recchi’s speech before Game 7 in 2011 — and came away with a laser focus.
“It’s huge,” Acciari said. “Hearing his experiences, Z’s experiences. Every guy feeds off that.
“Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. What more can you ask for?”
Acciari, from Johnston, R.I., was 19 when he watched Chara lift the Cup on TV. In his life as a Bruins fan, it was his happiest moment. He has made room for many more.
“Just the triumph when he holds it up is just something special,” Acciari said. “You want to be able to do that one day. Tomorrow could be that day.”