BOSTON – Get the first goal. Execute. Dress the better goalie. Stay disciplined. Win the special teams battle. Don’t think about making a mistake because then you’ll make one. Start on time, but play a full 60.
We all know the clichés and keys to a back-against-the-wall, win-or-go-home Game 7.
Truth is, one really good hockey team will be done in a few a hours and the other will have the privilege of flying south to face the well-rested Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Maple Leafs’ strategy?
“Come out and play,” coach Mike Babcock urged Wednesday morning at TD Garden.
“Let’s get after ’em. It’s way more fun playing and living life with your foot on the gas.”
Here are seven things you should know about the game-day feels surrounding Game 7.
1. Matthews is due
When Auston Matthews returned to action in late March with a healthy shoulder, the Leafs top centre scored at least a point in each of the final nine games of the regular season (6-7-13). Then he flew to Boston.
Matthews has been kept off the scoreboard in four of six games this series, notching just a single goal and a single assist.
Still, he leads his team in shots (23) and looked aggressive in Game 6. (His determined drive to the net created a Zach Hyman goal that was later negated by a good goalie interference ruling.) The man is due.
“They’re creating a lot of chances. They’re getting around the net,” Mitch Marner says of the Matthews line. “They have a lot of speed on that line and a lot of firepower.”
Matthews, a self-confessed “easy napper,” says he’ll watch a movie or get sucked into
“It’s more a nervous excitement,” Matthews says. “It’s a good nervous.
“Everybody gets nervous. It depends on if it’s scared nervous or excited nervous. As a kid, you probably get more scared nervous just because you’re so young and you’re not used to playing in those moments.
“These are the games you dream about. You watch a lot of them as a kid. You get to experience it now, and it’s definitely going to be fun.”
2. Komarov or nah?
Leafs coach Mike Babcock, again, reunited Nazem Kadri with Marner and Patrick Marleau during the morning skate — but history says that might be a red herring.
Rookie Andreas Johnsson and veteran Leo Komarov took alternating rushes to the left of Tomas Plekanec and William Nylander.
“[Komarov] is now in a position he could go,” Babcock said Tuesday. “My big question is, it’s going fast out there and you haven’t played. I’ve got to make a decision.”
Babcock said he’s made his decision, but you’ll need to tune into the game to see what that is. Does the coach go with experience and years of trust in his alternate captain, or with speed and a lineup that has won two straight?
3. Marner has never played in a Game 7
“I never got to play one in junior, so I wouldn’t really know [what it’s like],” Marner confesses.
So, the 20-year-old draws upon watching Patrick Kane deliver in Game 7s and thinks back to the feeling right before his London Knights’ 3-2 overtime victory in the 2016 Memorial Cup championship final.
“Even then, our team in London, we were really light,” he says.
“We were joking around about how we were going to win that tournament from Game 1 of the season. We were always knockin’ on wood. That team was one of the lightest teams I’ve ever been on, just having fun, enjoying the moment.
“Reminds me of this team…. We don’t want the ride to end.”
4. Must contain Bergeron. Must contain Bergeron. Must contain Bergeron.
The most telling stat of this series is that the Bruins’ best line — Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak — has combined for 23 points in Boston’s three victories and zero points (but, let’s be honest, a ton of chances) in Toronto’s three victories.
“I know, being a scorer, it is tough when you’re not scoring,” Nazem Kadri says. “They had a great early start and they’re great players. They don’t need much time to open the floodgates. That’s why we’ve got to make sure to stay on top of them.”
Babcock won’t have the benefit of a hard line match here, so it’s all hands on deck.
“Enjoy it. That’s why we play the game,” said Bergeron, who may or may not be playing with half a spleen and three broken ankles for all we know.
“It’s one of those things where you can’t get too caught up in it. Just go out there and let your instincts take over.”
5. Bruins make a switch to ‘group we trust’
The Tommy Wingels experiment is over.
Winger Danton Heinen draws back into Boston’s lineup for Game 7 beside Riley Nash and David Backes on the third unit.
Trade deadline gamble Rick Nash (one goal, no assists, minus-3) slides up to the second line alongside the excellent David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
“This is the group we envisioned and the group we trust to get it done,” said Boston coach Bruce Cassidy.
6. Marner keeps it light
How will the Maple Leafs leading scorer kill time between Wednesday’s morning skate and puck drop?
“Go home, eat, sit on my phone, probably look at Twitter, look at video games, watch people playin’
Believe him or not, Marner says he has no trouble sleeping before monster games and has the ability to delay focusing on hockey until 10 minutes before puck drop.
“If I get too serious when I’m away from the game,” he says, “my mind gets tired a bit.”
7. This is where moments become memories
Both head coaches delivered wonderful perspective on what a game like this means to those involved. We’ll let Babcock and Cassidy have the last words before we slide to the edge of our seat here.
Babcock: “You’re a kid playing outside road hockey, it’s the seventh game and you’re scoring a winning goal in overtime. That’s just the way it was your whole life. No one else in hockey is playing right now. They’re all stopped and watching, and that’s always something.”
Cassidy: “Listen, [Monday] in Toronto, the first responders, they were under pressure. OK, that’s pressure to me, that’s real-life pressure. This is a game that players dream about being in this situation. Game 7 playing road hockey in a small town in Canada or a big city in the United States or somewhere in between, and that’s what it is about – enjoy the moment.”
Babcock: “There’s only certain moments in your life that turn into memories. This is one of them right here tonight. Make it a great memory.”