Wednesday night will mark the final game of the 2018-19 NHL season, and everything is at stake. For the first time since 2011 (I’m sure Boston Bruins fans remember that series pretty well), the Stanley Cup will be decided in a winner-take-all Game 7. It’s as exciting as any sport gets – the best postseason in all of sports being decided by one game, with the most prestigious trophy on the line.
In the 94-year history of the Boston Bruins, Wednesday will mark the first ever Stanley Cup Final Game 7 in Boston. Here are the keys to victory for the Bruins on a historic night.
Tuukka Rask has been outstanding for the Bruins all postseason, and they’ll need one more heroic performance from their net-minder in Game 7. Any storyline about Rask’s ability to step up in big situations – no matter how questionable they were to begin with – should be put to rest at this point in the Bruins’ playoff run. A black and gold victory in Game 7 should all but guarantee a Conn Smythe honor for the Finnish goaltender, and he could even garner consideration if Boston falls on Wednesday.
Through all four rounds of the postseason, Rask has been up to the challenge. A quick look at his stat line reflects his domination – a .938 save percentage (SV%), 1.93 goals-against average (GAA), and a pair of shutouts to top it off.
What’s more, Rask has been consistently dominant. He’s posted at least a .905 SV% in every game this postseason, allowing two or fewer goals in 16 of Boston’s 23 playoff games. He’s only been beaten four times in a game once, in Game 4 against the Toronto Maple Leafs (the Bruins won), during which he made 38 saves.
Most importantly, Rask has been flat-out heroic in elimination games. In the four games that the Bruins have had their backs against the wall, Rask has a .953 SV% and 1.33 GAA. When the Bruins have a chance to eliminate opponents, he’s been near perfect with a .990 SV% and 0.33 GAA.
His performance in Game 6 of the Cup Final serves as an encapsulation of just how strong Rask has been:
To put it simply, Rask has been locked in for months. He’s been the backbone of this Cup run, with consistently strong positioning and control. And he’s been there to bail the Bruins out when they’ve needed it most.
Rask backed up Tim Thomas in 2011, and has one championship ring as a result. But carrying the Bruins to a Stanley Cup himself would all but cement Rask as the best goaltender in Bruins history.
A Boston win will undoubtedly send Rask home with several pieces of hardware.
The identity of this Bruins team has been shaken up throughout the season. On the game’s biggest stage, it’s time to find out once and for all what this team is all about.
Early in the season, there were concerns about the Bruins being a one-line team. Part of this, of course, was a result of the dominance of Boston’s top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.
At this point, concerns over the team’s depth have been resolved. The B’s have seen production from just about everyone leading up to the final game of the postseason. In fact, the list of Bruins goal scorers is almost identical to the team’s roster. John Moore is the only Bruins skater who hasn’t potted a postseason goal. It’s been a historic display of depth – the 21 unique scorers for the Bruins ties the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers for the most scorers in a single postseason.
That being said, it hasn’t only been rainbows and sunshine this series. Prior to Game 6, many of the Bruins’ top producers were being neutralized at even strength. Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak, David Krejci, and Charlie McAvoy combined for zero points at even strength through the first five games.
Luckily, Boston’s depth has been there to make up for it. Trade deadline acquisition Charlie Coyle (he’s from Weymouth!) tallied four points through the first four games of the series, and while Marcus Johansson has been limited to two points in the Cup Final, he’s still had a noticeable impact. Credit to Bruins’ GM Don Sweeney there.
Beyond the revamped third line, Boston’s fourth line has continued to be invaluable. Sean Kuraly, in particular, has been one of Boston’s most valuable players this postseason (he has five points as a fourth-liner in this series), with Joakim Nordstrom (four points) and Noel Acciari (two points) also making an impact. The importance of the fourth line, not just in terms of production but also in terms of play style and setting the pace, has been exemplified by head coach Bruce Cassidy’s decision to start the fourth line in several big games.
Depth-wise, just about everyone has played their role this postseason. Even Karson Kuhlman, who was slotted in for Game 6 in place of David Backes, was a force up front. He revitalized the second line with eye-catching speed and buried a goal to top it off.
Game 7 heroes are often not the superstars, but instead a bottom-six player stepping into the spotlight at the perfect time. If the Bruins win as a result of a bottom-sixer, I don’t think anybody would be surprised. But the top six need to play their part too.
If you haven’t heard enough referee talk to last you a lifetime at this point in the series, then you must live under a rock (and I envy you). Regardless of your thoughts on the officiating in this series, one thing is clear: the Bruins need to play disciplined hockey in Game 7.
If one thing is certain, it’s that the Blues are going to play aggressively (perhaps too aggressively) in Game 7. They haven’t shied away from taking the body all series, and it’s been problematic for them several times. Two Blues players have served suspensions in the final already. Wednesday’s match-up being the final game of the season, the threat of suspension is essentially off the table and the Blues are going to come out swinging in an effort to take control away from the home-standing Bruins and the rowdy TD Garden crowd. If things get chippy, the Bruins need to keep their heads.
Why? It’s as simple as this: at even strength, this series has been a wash. Both teams have potted 13 goals. The difference, then, has come from special teams. The Bruins are outscoring St. Louis 8-1 during special teams play.
Boston tested their luck in Game 6. A pair of undisciplined tripping calls against Marchand and McAvoy could’ve cost the Bruins. Instead, the Bruins’ penalty kill was up to the task, as it has been all postseason (operating at 88.4% efficiency). If the Bruins can stay out of the box, and limit special teams play to their dangerous power play (which has operated at 32.9% efficiency), then Boston’s chances of earning Lord Stanley’s Cup are exponentially higher.
Wednesday’s matchup will be hockey in its greatest form. The Bruins have played 105 meaningful games this season, but at the end of the day, their fate will be decided by just one. If the Bruins check off the boxes above, then they’ll celebrate their 7th Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!