BOSTON – Opportunity stretches out before the Montreal Canadiens like the wide open Interstate-89 that winds through Vermont and New Hampshire and delivers you at TD Garden.
Seldom will you see a team arrive to a Game 7 riding such a high. Montreal walked into a dark cave on Monday night and wasn’t spooked by all of the uncertainty. In fact, the Habs delivered their best performance of the season to set up one more game with the Boston Bruins.
They aren’t even the least bit bothered that it will be played in unfriendly territory. In case there was any doubt about that, P.K. Subban encouraged the Boston fans to bring all of their energy and anger and enthusiasm. “I can’t wait to take that all away from them,” he said following Game 6, giving the Bruins a nice headliner item for the bulletin board.
As usual, that was a case of P.K. setting the tone for his team. The players gathered at their practice facility before travelling to Boston on Tuesday and you didn’t have to stretch your mind very far to detect a running theme.
“You think about that feeling walking out of the Garden there and it being pretty quiet,” said forward Brandon Prust.
“Other than screaming at us there’s not much else (the fans) can do,” added veteran winger Daniel Briere. “If at the end of the night we win, they’re probably going to be very quiet and walking home. That would be the ultimate reward for us, but we have to make that happen.
“We can’t just say it, we have to go out there and make it happen.”
The Game 6 victory was built by using the team’s speed and sustaining an aggressive forecheck. Goaltender Carey Price also kept things calm during a long stretch where the Habs held just a 1-0 lead, which allowed them to eventually pull away and win 4-0. In four must-win games this year, including his starts for Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics, Price has allowed just one goal.
Now Montreal has a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference final for just the second time since the franchise’s last Stanley Cup victory in 1993. They’d even have home ice advantage against the New York Rangers should they get there.
Of course, a fairly large obstacle remains. The Bruins are the conference’s most resilient team and they won’t go down easy. This is the ninth Game 7 they’ve faced since coach Claude Julien was hired as head coach in 2007 and the seventh straight year they’ve played at least one.
On the eve of Wednesday’s game, you weren’t hearing much from the Bruins. A reporter read Julien the quote from Subban, but he didn’t want to bite.
“No reaction,” said Julien. “What’s being said right now doesn’t matter. I think it’s all about going out there … and playing the game. We’re not going to start the ‘he said, she said’ kind of thing at this point.”
The referees for the deciding game will be Dave Jackson and Dan O’Rourke. Jackson is an interesting choice because he assessed the Bruins a bench minor during Game 2 after Julien berated him following a Montreal goal. After the game, the Boston coach said his team had to put up with a lot of “crap.”
No matter where you draw the line between right and wrong on the ice, both teams have crossed it during this series. It was the Canadiens that touched off the skirmish near the end of Monday’s game when Andrei Markov knocked Zdeno Chara to the ice and later pitchforked him with a stick between the legs.
That triggered a series of punches, slashes and other indiscretions.
Beer cups, water bottles and other garbage came out of the Bell Centre stands as Chara and Milan Lucic headed to the dressing room, just as it had in TD Garden when Montreal won Game 1 in double overtime.
There is no moral high ground to be found here. There is only one game to decide the winner of the 34th playoff meeting between these longtime rivals.
It is bound to be an emotional night like so many others that have played out at TD Garden recently. Four years ago to the day, Philadelphia erased a 3-0 lead in Game 7 against the Bruins to overcome a 3-0 series deficit in the second round. Three years ago – not to do the day, exactly – it was Boston scoring in overtime of a Game 7 to eliminate the Habs in a compelling first-round series.
Habs coach Michel Therrien said the “beauty” of a deciding game is that anything can happen. His team is embracing the power of positive thought and has designs on coming into a raucous atmosphere in Boston and playing spoiler.
“I grew up watching these series and hating the big, bad Bruins,” said Briere. “It would be very special (to beat them).”
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