WILMINGTON — The Bruins took the ice at Ristuccia Arena Tuesday for what may be their last practice of the season. All players were present with the exception 0f Patrice Bergeron and Adam McQuaid, the latter of whom remains out after not practicing yet this postseason. The B’s will host the Capitals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
With Bergeron not on the ice, Jordan Caron wore a gold sweater and skated on the second line. Joe Corvo (lower-body) skated after missing Sunday’s Game 6, but didn’t appear to be among the Bruins’ top six defensemen in practice. The lines were as follows:
It’s one of the time-tested adages used to describe Game 7.
But early on in those winner-take-all contests, it can sometimes be a bit player, or two, or three, who give the stars time to get their legs under them.
Certainly, that was the case in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals last June when Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton all came out guns blazing in the opening minutes, taking the play to the Canucks and setting the tempo so that the Sedin twins couldn’t get going.
“I think it’s important to really play on your toes,” Campbell said. “With a line ours, that’s our job, is to provide that energy, so in situations like Game 7, if you’re a little bit tentative, it’s usually not going to serve you well. We’re a high energy line, high energy players. In situations like Game 7, every play matters so much, there’s so much pressure on every play, it’s best almost better not to think and just use your instincts and that’s what we try to do.”
That’s what they did in Game 5 against the Caps on Saturday, when Thornton threw his weight around in the offensive zone with a couple of heavy forechecks. Moments later, the Bruins had goals 28 seconds apart to tie the game.
“I think for Game 7s, what I’ve learned so far in my short playoff career, it’s got to be a balance,” Campbell said. “You have to be ready. Game 7s are usually the most intense game obviously, because everything’s on the line. You have to control your emotions. You have to walk that line where you’re ready to go, your energy and enthusiasm is high. But if you can make plays under pressure obviously, it’s a pressure-packed situation. It’s usually the team that can make those plays and perform under pressure is the team that wins.
“Execute the game plan. It’s one thing to be excited and rightfully so, it is an exciting time of year. It doesn’t get any better than Game 7, whether it’s the first round or the finals. It’s where big players show up and to be a big player in Game 7 you have to have that balance of energy and excitement mixed with poise and confidence and be able to execute plays.”
Now, the Bruins have Game 7 on their home ice for the third time in their last four winner-take-all contests. Does it matter to Campbell and the Bruins?
“It’s something we work hard for all year long and I think you have to put some importance on having home ice advantage and working hard for it,” Campbell said. “I guess Game 7s, they’re something we as a team like. We keep putting ourselves in that situation. They’re fun to play in. Obviously, the stakes are pretty high and it comes down to a one-game series. We have to be as prepared as possible. It’s been a close series so far and we expect nothing but the same for Game 7.”
Andrew Ference (21) celebrates his go-ahead goal in Game 6 against the Caps with David Krejci (46). (AP)
For all of the talk – and deservedly so – about Patrice Bergeron finally getting nominated as a finalist for the Selke award for best defensive forward in the game, it’s ironic that the offensive play of the Bruins’ defensemen is a key reason they even find themselves in a Game 7 Wednesday night against the Caps.
“Yeah, they’ve played well all series, but also I think all year and it’s just another aspect of our game that shows right there that we’re deep offensively, but also we’re deep on defense and throughout the lineup,” Bergeron said Monday. “They’ve been helping us in this series a lot to just get offense, but also defensively to stop their skilled guys and can’t say enough about all of them back there. They all do their job and they all take pride in it.”
Everyone knows about the abilities of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg in helping to contain Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. And everyone knows that both of them bring cannons from the point with their slap shots. What fans – and even the Caps – may not have counted on was the offensive contributions of Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference.
Boychuck had one of his patented “Johnny Rockets” on a power play to tie Saturday’s Game 5 at 3-3, when time was running down. Sunday, it appeared for all the world that Ference – on “Earth Day” – had given the Bruins the game-winning goal in regulation when he pinched down and scooped up a rebound off a Tyler Seguin shot and put it in the net.
Earlier in the game, it was Ference who smartly read the rush of Patrice Bergeron and Rich Peverley out of the offensive zone circle draw toward the slot and fired a shot that Peverley tipped past Braden Holtby for the game’s first goal.
“I think he’s done a great job,” B’s coach Claude Julien said of Ference. “We’ve always liked Andrew’s battle and also for his size and also for the fact that he certainly has good versatility. He moves well, he skates well and again, we keep encouraging our D’s to support the attack and go out the ice and he’s done a great job of that.”
There is a risk, of course, like when Chara and Seidenberg get caught too far up ice as was the case on Capitals’ goals in Games 3 and 6. In Game 6, the Capitals tied the game, 2-2, when Jason Chimera got behind Seidenberg, who had a broken skate, and beat Tim Thomas.
“Our D’s seem to be finding a little bit more balance in this series as we get near the end, between jumping in [and] supporting, and also being reliable defensively we can’t forget the fact that this is a team in Washington that’s got some guys that can score goals and they love to blow the zone quickly. So we’ve got to be careful we don’t get our D’s caught up the ice all the time, but he did a great job [Sunday] at identifying that opening and going up the ice and giving us that lead.”
The Bruins will be relying on that again in Game 7 as they look for every advantage.
After taking a high stick from Alex Ovechkin in the second period of Sunday’s win over the Capitals, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara resembles Frankenstein with a series of stitches right across the bridge of his nose. It could’ve been worse, and Chara knows it. Now, he can look ahead to Game 7 Wednesday night at 7:30 at TD Garden.
“I feel good,” Chara said. “Obviously, it’s been tough to have back-to-back games, both afternoon games but again, it’s the schedule, and we all have to get through it and now we have two days to recover and get ready for Game 7.
“You always hear that teams play for that advantage, to have Game 7 at home but at the same time, we just have to be ready to play our way, the full 60, and even more if it needs to be. It doesn’t mean just because we’re at home we’re going to have an easy game. We still have to win the game on the ice.”
Chara and the Bruins have been pushed to the limit in more ways than one against the No. 7 seed Caps. Every game has been decided by one goal, the first time in Stanley Cup history that the first six games of a seven-game series have been so close. Now, the Bruins are back in familiar territory, a Game 7. But don’t think for a minute that Chara and the Bruins necessarily drew it up that way.
“No, I don’t think that’s the way we meant it,” Chara said. “Those games are always tough to win. Everything can go right and everything can go wrong in those games. You just have to make sure everything you do is maximized to almost perfection because obviously that’s the game that decides if you play for another day or you’re done.
“It’s very close, very tight series. Every game decided by one goal just tells you it’s really been close.”
Chara also took time Monday to thank a teammate that has finally been recognized by the league for his ability to play both ways on the ice. Patrice Bergeron was one of three finalists named for the Selke Award, given annually to the best defensive forward in the game.
“I’ve been saying that for years,” Chara said. “He should’ve been nominated way before this year. He’s such a reliable guy to have on the ice. He plays all the situations. You can really count on him when he’s on the ice that he’s going to get the job done. It’s just a pleasure to have a teammate like that. He’s such a tremendous person and hard worker, and obviously a leader, there’s no question in my mind he should be the winner.”
Like Chara, Bergy knows what it’s like to play through pain and he appreciates that Bergeron is doing it again this year, suffering an upper body injury in Saturday’s Game 5 that limited him to one faceoff draw in Game 6.
“That’s the way it is at this time of year, everybody sacrifices and does whatever he can to help the team,” Chara said. “That’s just the way it is.He’s been doing that for years. He’s always playing against top lines. Whatever job or task you ask from him, he’s going to do that. Explain all the situations, it’s always huge to have someone willing to play defense first before the offense. Not too many guys take as much pride in it as Bergy does.”
Shawn Thornton has always been willing to fight for playoff playing time. (AP)
Shawn Thornton made his way out of the Bruins dressing room Monday just before reporters were allowed in. And that’s probably a good thing since he had to take one for the team on Sunday in the crucial Game 6.
With Patrice Bergeron ailing and his status uncertain, Claude Julien had to dress another skilled forward capable of carrying the play on the top two lines if needed. Jordan Caron was called upon for the first time in the series. But that meant someone had to sit. And just like Thornton sat to make room for Tyler Seguin after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning last spring, Thornton was again asked to take a seat on Sunday to make room for Caron if Bergeron wasn’t 100 percent.
“Well, it certainly wasn’t related to play,” Claude Julien said Monday when asked about his reasoning. “It was related to a decision I had to make just before the game. Those are – hard for me to give you that reason right now because it would probably open up a can of worms, so I’m going to leave it at that. It’s certainly not because of Thornton’s play; it’s because of necessity.”
Certainly not. Julien is well aware of the positive impact Thornton has had on his this team in their Stanley Cup run and in being an energy force on Saturday when the team was down 2-0. He delivered a pair of heavy forechecks in the Capitals zone and less than a minute later Brad Marchand was on the ice delivering the first of two goals in 28 seconds to tie the game late in the second period.
And remember, after Horton was knocked out of the Cup finals by Aaron Rome in Game 3, Thornton returned for Game 4 and was part of the “Merlot” energy line that carried play in the opening minutes of Game 7 against the Canucks last spring while the starters got their legs under them. Marchand scored two goals in that game and Thornton was again a force to be reckoned with. Don’t count him out for Game 7 on Wednesday either – if he gets the chance to play.
After watching six one-goal games between the two teams, no one should be surprised that the Capitals and Bruins are headed for a winner-take-all Game 7 to decide their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
As a matter of fact, listening to Bruins coach Claude Julien a day after his team survived a 4-3 overtime thriller in Game 6 in Washington, it’s almost expected. Are the Bruins approaching this Game 7 the way they did in their three Game 7s of 2011, when they became the first team ever to win three Game 7s and win the Stanley Cup?
“Well I guess that’ll be probably answered after Game 7,” Julien said Monday at TD Garden, site of the showdown game Wednesday. “We don’t make things easy, we didn’t last year, but we got through it and we haven’t gotten through it this year. So I think that’s probably the difference right now is we need to get through Game 7 before we can look at it the same way.”
What was racing through his head when Tyler Seguin scored three minutes into OT Sunday?
“Well although I’m excited, I try to look calm,” Julien said. “I think that’s the main thing here is, you know, you kind of regroup, go into the room and you do. For me, it’s – how do I keep our team focused and enjoying what they just accomplished but not let it slip to the point where you lose focus of what you have to do next. All we did last night, or yesterday afternoon, was tie the series. We didn’t win it. There’s still another game to be played; before we can be happy with this we’ve got to make sure we take care of Game 7. So, it’s exciting because it was either that or we’d be here today packing our bags and going home and I don’t think anybody’s ready for that right now.”
If the Bruins get the same kind of production from their top two lines as they did in Game 6, there’s good reason to think they’ll be moving on to the second round.
“I think if you look at the last two games, it’s true – it’s not just [Sunday], it’s the day before, some of those guys started producing and helping us out,” Julien said. “So our secondary scoring has kept us in this series and allowed us to move forward. And now it’s up to those guys to take over, and they have. [Tyler] Seguin’s big goal, [David] Krejci’s big goal, [Milan] Lucic—plays he’s made, Patrice, [Rich] Peverley, those kinds of guys have all been – [Brad] Marchand. Our top two line guys have really stepped up and that’s made a big difference.”
In other news and notes from Monday’s media availability, the team did not practice on Monday, taking the day to rest instead, though several Bruins reported to the Garden to work out, get treatment and be available to the media. The team will practice on Tuesday in Wilmington at 11 a.m. … Julien said there was no update on injured defensemen Adam McQuaid and Joe Corvo.
McQuaid has been out the whole series since taking a hit into the boards late in the regular season from Washington’s Jason Chimera. Meanwhile, Corvo was injured in the right leg blocking a shot of Marcus Johansson on Saturday in Game 5. “As far as Joe is concerned I think he’s going to be fine,” Julien said. “Adam McQuaid is still at the same spot he was before we left on the road.”
The Bruins center was named one of the three finalists for this year’s Frank J. Selke Trophy Monday, awarded annually to the forward “who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.” The other finalists are three-time winner Pavel Datsyuk and St. Louis’ David Backes.
During the regular season, Bergeron led the NHL in plus/minus (plus-36) and was second in faceoff percentage (59.3). He has never won the Selke in his career.
Only three players have won the award over the last six seasons: Rod Brind’Amour twice, Datsyuk in three straight seasons and Ryan Kesler last season.
Though the fraternity of Selke winners such a small and exclusive club, it seemed throughout the 2011 postseason and this regular season that Bergeron would finally begin to get the national recognition that has somehow eluded the quiet center throughout his career.
Bergeron matches up against the other teams’ top lines, so for him to post a plus-36 (and have linemate Tyler Seguin, an extremely gifted scorer whose defensive game is nothing to write home about, finish with a plus-34) is nothing short of outstanding.
Many writers from different markets seemed to jump on the Bergeron-for-Selke, trying to correct what has been somewhat of an injustice for the Bruins’ top forward. Bergeron finished the regular season with 64 points, which was second to Tyler Seguin.