WILMINGTON, Mass. – Now the Boston Bruins know how the Philadelphia Flyers felt the past week. Win or put away the skates for the season.
Like the Flyers after they lost the first three games of their Eastern Conference semifinal, the Bruins are determined not to let three straight losses affect them in Friday night’s Game 7. There’s no more leeway for either team anymore.
The Bruins showed calmness and spoke confidently after a nearly hour-long practice Thursday. Barely 12 hours earlier, that practice became necessary with the Flyers’ 2-1 win.
“They’ve had their season on the line the last three games and they’ve had an extra gear that we didn’t match,” Boston defenceman Dennis Wideman said. “Now our season’s on the line so, hopefully, we have that extra gear.”
The Flyers had to scrap just to get into the playoffs. It took a shootout win on the last day of the regular season. They’d hate to let an impressive comeback go to waste but they must play in front of passionate Bruins fans.
“When you’re down 0-3, you look at it as a lot of hard work by all the players,” Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s a testament to them and their never-quit attitude. Now it comes down to one game. You don’t want all that work to go away for nothing.”
None of that matters now.
Not Boston’s Game 1 win on a dramatic overtime goal by Marc Savard in his first game after he missed nearly two months with a concussion. Not Philadelphia’s Game 4 win on another overtime goal, this one by Simon Gagne in his first game of the series after sitting out with a toe injury.
Not even the other two one-goal victories that could have gone either way.
“We’re approaching (Friday’s) game with lots of confidence,” Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron said. “We know we’re a good team. … We’re not scared at all.”
Flyers captain Mike Richards, who scored their first goal in Game 6, doesn’t think they played their best game Wednesday.
“We have to be at our best to get the win,” he said. “Get our legs moving, be confident with the puck and know that we can make plays under pressure.”
The Bruins played well for much of Game 6 but their checklist for the finale is long: get off to a better start, put more traffic in front of goalie Michael Leighton, forecheck better, pounce on rebounds and spread out their offence in the attacking zone to minimize blocked shots.
Leighton made 30 saves but another 30 shots were blocked before the puck even got to him.
“They’re really collapsing and they’re really taking away those shooting lanes,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “We have to find ways to get those pucks to the net.”
The Flyers must play with the same sense of desperation they had in the last three games. Leighton made his first start since spraining his ankle March 16 after Brian Boucher left Game 5 with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. The Flyers won that 4-0.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of momentum in the series,” Philadelphia defenceman Matt Carle said. “Getting the win in Boston (in Game 5) was huge. I think we’re going to approach this almost like Game 5. That was a do-or-die game at the time but their desperation level will be right up there with ours.”
Only three teams in the NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball have won a seven-game series after losing the first three—the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, the 1975 New York Islanders and the 2004 Boston Red Sox.
The Flyers are the first NHL team since the 1975 Islanders to even force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0.
“I’m not much into history,” Julien said. “I’m more into the present.”
And the future? The Flyers aren’t dwelling on what a victory would mean.
“If we look back at it somewhere down the road it will be pretty special,” forward James van Riemsdyk said. “But we have to get the win first.”
For two teams who struggled to make the playoffs, then upset their first-round opponents, the reward for a win will be home-ice advantage against the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins were seeded sixth and the Flyers seventh.
“We’ve been one win away for three games now, so nothing’s really changed for us,” Boston wing Blake Wheeler said. “We knew they weren’t going to just lay over and die for us. … Now the onus is on us to come out and play the way we know we can.”
That’s what Philadelphia did to climb out of a huge hole and get to Game 7.
“You have to embrace it. You have to welcome that challenge,” Flyers forward Danny Briere said. “If we win (Friday), it will be really special. If we don’t win (Friday), it won’t mean much.”