So, here we are. Game Seven. "All of the marbles." "Win or go home." "The whole enchilada" "Play like there's no tomorrow." "Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'."
There are endless cliches you could use to describe the intensity surrounding the Bruins-Hurricanes matchup in Boston tonight (8pm, NESN, TSN, RIS; bonus coverage on Versus following the Wings-Ducks conclusion). However, as far as I'm concerned, tonight's game - no, this entire series - comes down to one word for the Bruins: score.
Thus far these playoffs, all seven of the Bruins' wins have come when scoring four goals or more. In these four wins, the Bruins have outscored opponents 29-9. In their three losses? They've been outscored 10-3.
Throughout the season, the Bruins have been an offensive powerhouse. They combined for the second-best goals total this year (274; second only to Detroit's 295) while surrendering the least about of goals to opponents (196). This is the kind of game they will have to play tonight if they want to advance.
Phil Kessel? Hello? Are you reading this?
Kessel has been relatively quiet this series, with the obvious exception of his timely Game 5 performance. However, if the Bruins want to have a chance at Lord Stanley's Cup, they're going to need the American Sidney Crosby to step his game up a little. He has shown he has it in him (just ask Carey Price), but so far against the Canes he hasn't been able to find his rhythm. I'm looking for a good effort from him tonight, including potting at least one. Call me an optimist.
As obvious as it seems, "score early, score often" should be the Bruins' motto heading into tonight's game. Coming off of two emotional wins, one of which being on the road, this team is riding a high that they cannot afford to give up. Just ask New Jersey what it's like to take your foot off of the gas pedal for just one minute with this Hurricanes team. You'll have plenty of time to discuss this topic with them as you stroll around the golf course near the Meadowlands.
The Bruins clearly have the momentum heading into Game 7. Unfortunately, that gives the Canes the opportunity to be the desperate team - Boston has to keep up the intensity with Carolina or they will go the way of Ovechkin and the Caps. A beating like the one handed out by the Penguins last night will not go over well in the Garden.
Aside from a breakout night from Phil Kessel, I think this game rests on the performances of three Bruins:
Zdeno Chara: Big Z is the key to shutting down Staal. He needs to play physical, but restrained enough to keep himself out of the box. Allowing Staal room to move on the Garden ice frankly scares me to death and I'd much prefer to see a 6'9" monster right there with him every chance he gets.
Tim Thomas: This one speaks for itself. The Bruins need to see "Third-Period-Game-6 Timmy" and not "Third-Period-Game-4 Timmy". The pick-me-up of a ridiculous, sprawling, timely Tim Thomas save cannot be underestimated, and it's evident on the ice that each big save puts a little more confidence in the team. If Thomas is on his Vezina game, the Bruins should be in good shape.
Mark Recchi: The wily old veteran can be the difference maker tonight, with his hard-nosed style of play and four game scoring streak (3-2-5). If Recchi can park himself in front of Cam Ward and get a stick on a couple of bombs from the point, he stands a good chance of extending that point streak to five games, and in the process, ushering the Boston Bruins into the Eastern Conference finals and a date with his old squad.
T-minus three and a half hours to game time, and - well, what the hell - it's "do or die" time.