Commentary

Bruins need to embrace pressure

Boston's best shot at winning the Cup in hostile Vancouver is to get on the board early

Updated: June 15, 2011, 3:52 PM ET
By Jackie MacMullan | ESPNBoston.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- In all the Bruins' glorious years, through Milt Schmidt and Eddie Shore and Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque and Cam Neely, no squad has ever gone where Claude Julien's group will venture Wednesday night.

Not one Bruins hockey club has ever played in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

There's nothing like a Game 7 in sports. It is the ultimate test of who blinks first, who wants it more and all those other tired cliches that speak to the magnitude of the moment.

The pressure can be excruciating, or it can be nonexistent, depending on the makeup of the player. Veteran Mark Recchi, who knows exactly what it's like to be one win from the Stanley Cup, has already promised to brief his young comrades on the psychology of the all-or-nothing scenario that has presented itself.

[+] EnlargeMark Recchi
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesBruins veteran Mark Recchi plans to lead by example in not letting the Game 7 pressure get to the team. "We're going to have a blast," he said.

"We'll talk," Recchi said. "The biggest thing is embracing it. This is what we dream of. We've had pressure all year, pressure all through the playoffs. It's come down to one game.

"There is no pressure. Go play, go out and have fun with this. It's what you play for and what we've worked hard for all year. We're going to have a blast doing it. That will be the message."

In theory, that sounds feasible. Go out and skate without care as to what's at stake. In reality, that might be a difficult strategy to implement when you are dealing with a young, hungry, competitive nucleus of players, most of whom have never been in this position, and most of whom have not performed particularly well when the series has changed venues to Vancouver.

Recchi figures on leading by example in this instance.

"They'll see how I'm acting and see you can't let it grab you," he explained. "You can't let it bite you."

By all accounts, this series has been a head-scratcher. The Vancouver Canucks have smartly eked out three impressive wins on their own ice. Boston has bludgeoned the Canucks in the three games in its own building.

After letting in three goals on eight shots in the first period of Game 6, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo was pulled for the second time in the finals. He will be in net for Game 7, and all eyes will be on him. Will he respond with another home ice Vezina-worthy performance, or will he crack under the weight of the scrutiny he brought on himself by questioning Thomas' goaltending style and hockey etiquette?

The Canucks have a number of players who are feeling the pressure to perform. Luongo is certainly one. Henrik Sedin (1 goal, 0 assists) and Ryan Kesler (0 goals, 1 assist) are two others.

They believe this is their time, on the home ice they worked so hard to preserve throughout the postseason. They have proved they are close to unbeatable in their arena. In Game 5, they established themselves as the aggressors, in essence beating the Bruins at their own game.

"We got outhit in Game 5," Recchi agreed. "I don't believe that's going to happen in Game 7."

Game 7's have a way of making -- or breaking -- the careers of athletes. You need look no further than the Stanley Cup finals of two seasons ago, when the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins met in Game 7.

The Penguins were stacked with gifted offensive players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, yet it was former eighth-round draft choice Max Talbot who took center stage by scoring the team's only two goals in the defining Game 7 victory, forever cementing his legacy in the proud city of Pittsburgh.

Although Penguins fans will warmly remember Talbot no matter what he does on the ice going forward, some Red Wings followers still blanche when they think of defenseman Brad Stuart losing the puck in his own zone, leading to that first critical goal.

Pittsburgh's victory was the first time in nearly 40 years the road team had clinched the Cup in Game 7.

Who will be this season's Talbot? Whichever team scores first in these games seems to seize the upper hand. The Bruins repeatedly stressed that they must strike early, especially now that they have yet another opportunity to test Luongo after a subpar game.

"He [Luongo] plays really well at home," Bruins forward Rich Peverley said, "so we've got to create some more traffic in front, move our feet, make it uncomfortable for him. The earlier we do that, the better."

"We need that big early surge," Brad Marchand agreed. "Getting off to a quick start has proven to be so important for us."

Vancouver's scorers are not the only ones who have been thwarted in the finals. Boston needs more from Milan Lucic and David Krejci, who lost their linemate, Nathan Horton, to a season-ending concussion. Lucic had posted only two points in the finals before he snapped one past Luongo in Game 6. Krejci tallied his second goal of the series in that game.

"Our line needs to create more," Lucic said. "We have to want to do more. When we have that mindset, we're a much better hockey team.

"We just need to relax. If you look back at Game 5, you'll see we were too tense. We weren't hitting, playing our game. No more time for that. It's all out. We'll be flying all over the place."

History tells us you must be a special team to pull out a Stanley Cup Game 7 victory on the road. The statistics tell us that whoever wins Game 5 in a 2-2 series goes on to win it all 71 percent of the time. The numbers are on Vancouver's side.

The Bruins don't care about that. They already have made history by being the first Bruins team ever in this position, so, they figure, they might as well be the first ones to win a Game 7.

"When it comes down to one game like this," said Michael Ryder, "all the percentages go out the window."

He is right. Sometimes, a game is decided by a lucky (or unlucky) bounce of the puck. Sometimes, it's determined by sheer force of will, or the jumble of nerves that infects a key player. Once in a while, the guy you would least expect is the one who tilts the momentum in favor of his team.

That is the beauty of sport -- and the ultimate gift of a Game 7.

Jackie MacMullan is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

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