Bruins, Maple Leafs going the distance again
BOSTON (AP) – Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy doesn’t want to change too much heading into Game 7 of Boston’s first-round series against Toronto, explaining that his players “are a bit like dogs.”
“They love routines, especially on game days,” he said after the team’s practice on Monday. “So I think you try to stay as close to the routine as possible.”
Now all Cassidy needs to know is if he’s got a locker room full of bloodhounds, in single-minded pursuit of their quarry, or some cuddly golden retrievers that just want a belly rub.
For the second straight year and the third time in as many playoff matchups, the Bruins and Maple Leafs have taken a series to the limit. The winner of Tuesday night’s game will head to the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Bruins earned the right to play Game 7 at home by finishing seven points up on the Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division, but home-ice advantage hasn’t meant much so far in the series. No team has won two in a row over the first six games; Boston would need to break that streak to advance.
“It’s exciting. Game 7. It’s what you play for,” defenseman Zdeno Chara said. “Everything’s on the line.”
The Leafs could have ended this one in six games, but Boston won in Toronto 4-2 on Sunday to send a shiver through the city: In 2013, the Leafs led the Bruins by three goals in the third period of Game 7 before losing in overtime.
Last year, Toronto led Game 7 last year 4-3 heading into the third period but lost 7-4. Only one player from the unprecedented 2013 collapse will be in uniform on Tuesday night (Jake Gardiner; Nazem Kadri has been suspended).
“It’s a new set of circumstances,” Leafs forward John Tavares, who was signed as a free agent last offseason, told The Canadian Press after Game 6. “It’s a lot of guys who haven’t been here, including myself.”
There are five Bruins left from the ’13 comeback: Chara, Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci. When Chara takes the ice, he will tie the NHL record (Patrick Roy, Scott Stevens) by appearing in the 13th Game 7 of his career.
He has four assists and a 5-7 record in those games.
“He’s seen it all, right?” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said.
“He’s been a calming influence every single time he steps on the ice for our team. … When you see he has that look in his eye, it definitely brings another dimension to this team.”
With the Knights and Sharks also going to a seventh game on Tuesday night, it will be the first time the NHL will hold a pair of Game 7s on the same day since May 10, 2017, when the Penguins beat the Capitals and the Ducks beat the Oilers to reach their respective conference finals.
“The two series they were saying were pretty evenly matched were us and San Jose-Vegas,” Cassidy said. “So here we are.”
VEGAS AT SAN JOSE
Martin Jones’ poor play in goal almost sent San Jose home early in the playoffs. His surprising turnaround the past two games has helped the Sharks stave off elimination for two straight games and force Game 7 against Vegas.
Jones set a franchise record with 58 saves in a 2-1 double overtime win in Game 6 for the most saves by a goalie in a win when facing elimination since Dominik Hasek made 70 for Buffalo in Game 6 against New Jersey in 1994.
Jones has stopped 88 of 91 shots the past two games, after allowing 11 goals on 54 shots the previous three. He was pulled before the second period in two of those losses, but Sharks coach Peter DeBoer stuck with him and that decision has paid off handsomely.
“He’s liked and respected in that room,” DeBoer said Monday. “That hasn’t ever wavered. There’s been a lot of pressure and outside noise but everyone has said from day one that has never wavered in our room. That’s all that matters.”
Jones’ play is a big reason the Sharks are in position to complete a comeback from 3-1 down in a series for the first time in franchise history. In fact, they had never even forced a Game 7 in the previous six times they trailed 3-1 in a series.
Now the Sharks have a chance to do it in front of their home crowd in their first Game 7 since beating Nashville in the second round in 2016.
“There are fun games to play in,” forward Logan Couture said. “You relish this moment and enjoy it. This is what hockey is all about.”