Oh Game 7, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways.
We love you for being the best two words in sports, the inherent promise of high stakes and deep intensity bursting from your tiny letters.
We love you even more when you make an appearance in a championship series, a full regular season and complete postseason schedule boiled down to your one final game.
And in New England, where it seems championship teams are born and bred? We love even MORE when you make that appearance at home.
Here come the Bruins to turn up the heat on TD Garden’s ice Wednesday night, a Stanley Cup Game 7 against the Blues promising everything we love about the games we watch, a reminder that sports are the greatest reality show of them all, so beautifully unpredictable and so unpredictably beautiful.
“Very exciting,” Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was saying after Boston’s season-saving Game 6 win in St. Louis Sunday. “A lot of us have been in the Finals a couple times [winning in 2011, losing in 2013], but we haven’t had a chance to clinch a game at home. So obviously the city will be behind us and is very excited.”
With daily reminders that there are stakes far more important than those that occur on the fields of play (prayers up, David Ortiz), Game 7 is the best kind of distraction from the trials of our daily lives. Think of Torey Krug, playing the best hockey of his life while his wife is home expecting their first child, due any day. Not a bad lesson in perspective there, either.
“There won’t be much [going on with me], to be honest,” he said Monday. “My wife will not be moving around too much. Extended family has gotten the message to steer clear.
“I think that’s the approach that a lot of us will have. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. It’s about staying in the moment, playing this next game, just doing whatever it takes to be selfish.
“You don’t want to have any regrets. You prepare like you do for every other game, try to convince yourself that it is another game, play to your potential.”
As much as our hearts, our minds, our lungs, and our souls are invested in the outcome, as much as we believe our worlds change for the better when we are on the right side of an equation that pits bottom-line stakes against top-shelf energy, we know deep down that’s not true. It’s still just a game.
But it’s the best game in town.
Which is why Rask was echoing teammate Brad Marchand late Sunday, why he sat in the bowels of a silenced Enterprise Arena not looking to gloat about a shutdown performance or delight in an offensive masterpiece, but to remember how his team got there at all, and channel that mind-set over the hyped-up one brewing at home.
“Like Marchy said, we have to just focus on our game,” Rask insisted. “We have a hockey game to play. That’s all really that matters.
“It’s probably easier said than done, but at the end of the day, it’s just a hockey game. Just try to go out there and play your game, play your best and see what happens.”
That’s what the locals are so excited about: seeing it up close and personal.
Boston fans have stuffed themselves at the championship buffet, celebrating the Patriots six times in the last 18 years, the Red Sox four times in the last 15, and the Celtics and Bruins once each in the last 11.
But the opportunity to enjoy those celebrations at home has been rare (the 2013 Sox, the 2008 Celtics), partly because the site of a Super Bowl is officially neutral, but also because it just hasn’t worked out that way.
For the rest of the sports world, it feels as if someone just added lobster to New England’s already heaving buffet. But for the home crowd, it’s a chance to dance in the streets overnight.
If the Bruins can just get them there. This is the second Game 7 of the postseason for both the Bruins and the Blues, with Boston besting Toronto in a first-round winner-take-all game and the Blues beating Dallas in seven in Round 2. The Bruins’ 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs improved them to 15-12 in their NHL-record 27 Game 7s, passing Montreal (14-9) and Detroit (14-11) for the most Game 7 victories in league history.
Overall, this is the 17th time the Stanley Cup Final has gone to a Game 7, with the home team holding a 12-4 advantage. The road team, however, has won each of the last two, including the Bruins’ victory in Vancouver in 2011 (the Penguins’ win at Detroit in 2009 was the other).
Coach Bruce Cassidy, who was not at the helm in 2011, is relying on holdovers Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Rask, Marchand, and David Krejci to lead the way.
“They’ve been in a Game 7 before, in the Stanley Cup Finals,” Cassidy said. “In fact, the last one. They’ve lived it. They’ve been in a Game 7 at home against Toronto [this season]. The Stanley Cup is not at stake, but if you don’t win it, you have no chance at it.
“I think there’s a certain amount of pressure that our guys are used to having. In this situation, I think both teams like the pressure that’s on them. Any team would trade the opportunity to be here, so I think we’ll be OK.”
Us? Not so sure. Check back on Thursday.