BOSTON – “I just want my name on the damn Cup. That’s what I want.”
Those are the words of Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy on Wednesday morning in response to a question about legacy.
Tonight is one that defines them, all of them, no matter the sweater colour.
Hockey players always talk about not getting ahead of themselves, of focusing on the next one. Well, the next one is the last one, the only one.
“You grow up playing in the Stanley Cup Final Game 7, that’s what you talk about as a kid. It’s a great opportunity,” St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “That’s it. Winner take all. It’s one game. Get your mind ready. It’s just one more game.”
The power of a Stanley Cup Final Game 7 is immeasurable, and it’s not hyperbole to say Wednesday night — be it glory or agony — will stay with the men involved for the rest of their lives.
How puck bounces will make heroes and change lives. It will also haunt some until they die.
Karson Kuhlman tossed and turned for quite a while before he finally fell asleep last night.
“You wake up, and your dream is at your fingertips,” Torey Krug said.
Brad Marchand, who’s both won and lost in the fourth round, is thinking about all the great veterans in this league and how few cracks at this, if any, they’re granted.
“You need everything to go your way. You need the calls, you need the bounces, you need guys to be healthy and guys to step up at the right time. All the way through the year. It’s extremely tough just to get to this point here. To win is even harder than that. Once you lose, you realize how close it is. You get a taste, but you don’t get that victory, you don’t get to feel all the sensations of winning,” Marchand explained.
“It’s the best thing in the world for the team that wins, and it sucks for the team that loses. Being on both sides of it, you realize how hard it is, and just how s—– it is to lose. It sticks with you forever.”
Blues president calls out Bruins ice crew, apologizes
Tensions are as high as the stakes.
Ahead of the Blues final full practice at TD Garden on Tuesday, Blues president Doug Armstrong threw a verbal water bottle at the ice crew, of which Bruins defenceman Matt Grzelcyk’s father is a member:
Multiple reporters witnessed the scolding. Armstrong reportedly circled back to apologize.
The ice conditions at TD Garden (and Enterprise Center) have been questioned during the playoffs for being too soft. It is mid-June, folks.
Wednesday’s forecast calls for a high of 23 C with 45 per cent humidity in Boston.
Busch Stadium, Fenway Park accommodate Game 7
To get a sense of how major this game is in the local markets, the Boston Red Sox graciously bumped up first pitch of Wednesday’s game versus the Texas Rangers from 7:10 pm to 4:05 p.m., “as a courtesy to fans who want to watch Game 7.”
Meanwhile in St. Louis, the out-of-town watch party, which has been selling out Enterprise Center, needs a bigger boat.
The screening is moving down Clark Street to the main scoreboard screen at Busch Stadium, the 45,538-seat home of the Cardinals. Fans can gain entry for US$20.
“It just goes to show what kind of hockey city that is,” a shocked Ryan O’Reilly said. “It’s incredible.”
Tickets are on sale now for the One Nation Watch Party at Busch Stadium for Game 7! Proceeds benefit Cardinals Care and Blues for Kids.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) June 11, 2019
Barbashev returns, Thomas comes out
Hard fact: The Blues are the first team to have multiple players suspended during the Cup Final.
Fourth-line winger Ivan Barbashev’s physical presence was noticeably absent during his one-game ban, as Boston outhit the Blues 32-29 in its convincing 5-1 Game 6 victory.
“He’s an important piece for our team,” Colton Parayko said. “He gets in there hard. He uses the body well. He obviously can put the puck in the net. He has a lot of different aspects that can make his game really good. It’s tough when you’re missing someone like that, but we’re looking forward to having him back.”
Which raises the question: which winger comes out?
Zach Sanford — the initial next man up when the suspensions began — is surely deserving of keeping a hard-earned spot, setting up goals in his first three appearances, as well as delivering four hits and an even rating in Sunday’s loss.
Robert Thomas, however, was not up to speed in his return from injury, going minus-2 while skating a game-low 9:21.
Coach Berube is pulling Thomas out of the lineup, with the Blues pushing all in on their brawny identity.
The coach is making a switch on the blue line as well, yanking righty Robert Bortuzzo in favour of Joel Edmundson because he plans to play the snot out of his two horses, Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, on the right.
“We just felt like there’s not a lot of time over there, ice-time wise, so we’re going to go with the four lefties,” Berube said.
Kuhlman? Cool, man
During his Final debut Sunday, Kuhlman became the 21st different Bruin to score in these playoffs, tying an NHL record. (The Blues have flexed their depth, too, with 19 scorers.)
Kuhlman’s appearance guaranteed his name will be engraved on the Cup should Boston prevail and reinvigorated David Krejci’s sleepy line. David Backes will sit once more.
“It’s just his DNA. For a first-year player, he’s very mature, responsible, great work habits, good pro. Coming into this situation, I think you have to give him a lot of credit for how he’s prepared over the last month,” Cassidy said of Kuhlman, who was also called upon at crunch time to help eliminate Toronto.
“He won last year in college. I think that helps.
“He brings some speed, he gets in on the forecheck with his footspeed. David is more of a physicality guy. [Kuhlman] can make some plays as well. And that shot, he’s sneaky with his wrister. He’s scored a couple times, that righty across the body. I don’t want to give away state secrets here, but he does have that shot. Most righties want to go glove side. He’s able to find the blocker side.”
Grzelcyk is back, just in the nick of time
The only Boston lineup change will be inserting young defenceman and life-long Bruins fanatic Grzelcyk, who was replaced by veteran John Moore when he suffered a concussion in Game 2.
Moore has filled in so nicely since the injury that, in the likely event Grzelcyk goes, Connor Clifton will sit.
Grzelcyk said “it’s wild” that he’ll be playing the game he mimicked playing road hockey his whole childhood. How concerned is Cassidy that the kid hasn’t played a game in two weeks?
“Your adrenalin will carry you through. The one thing about Matt, if he does go in after missing some games, is he’s been skating with us. It’s not like he just jumped on the ice yesterday. He’s been participating, albeit non-contact,” Cassidy said.
“He knows he’s gotta get back in a hurry, make good decisions with it, take a hit to make a play if that’s what is required, which it usually is against this team. That’s the challenge in front of him. We’ve had discussions with him about it, and he’ll be ready for it.”
Gunnarsson doesn’t want to think about that other Game 7
Blues defender Carl Gunnarsson draws no advantage from having played a Game 7 at TD Garden already — 2013’s infamous first-round collapse when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“That Game 7 was all bad. It’s nothing I really want to think about too much. I haven’t been doing it until you brought it up. What happened in the past, you can’t change it. You’ve just got to see it like one more chance and this is a better one,” Gunnarsson told colleague Chris Johnston.
Gunnarsson’s hometown of Orebro, Sweden, has never hosted Lord Stanley.
“You just hope to be able to do that,” he said. “Is that all pressure? Sure, it’s pressure. But who else gets the chance?”
7 fun Game 7 facts
• This marks the first Stanley Cup Final Game 7 since 2011 — which was won by the Bruins in Vancouver — and only the 17th in NHL history.
• Despite participating in more Game 7s than any other franchise (28), the Bruins have never hosted a Game 7 of the Final until now.
• The Bruins became the sixth team in NHL history to win on the road to force a Game 7 in the Cup Final, joining the Maple Leafs (1942, 1964), Red Wings (1945), Avalanche (2001) and Lightning (2004). Only Detroit went on to lose Game 7.
• Home teams hold a 12-4 advantage in Game 7s of the Cup Final.
• The Blues can tie an NHL record if they secure their 10th playoff road win. (At home, they’re a shaky 6-7.)
• The last time a St. Louis team clinched a major title on the road was in the 1967 World Series: The Cardinals defeated the Boston Red Sox… in Game 7.
• Zdeno Chara is set to participate in his 14th career Game 7, more than any other NHLer (he’s 6-7).
Bruins doing their best to keep Wagner, Miller in the mix
Injured Bruins Chris Wagner and Kevan Miller stay connected to the club through group text chats, and Wagner has been able to travel with the club.
“We’re all pulling for one another, we love each other and what Kevan has done for this team has not gone unnoticed,” said Krug. “When you care about someone so much and they’re not able to perform at the level they want and be here with us, you feel for them. So, he’s a big part of this team like everyone else.”
Rask is winning the Conn Smythe regardless, right?
In yet another head-shaking performance Sunday, Tuukka Rask improved to 23-18 in 41 career playoff games on the road (1.97 GAA, .937 SV%, 5 SO) and busted Gerry Cheevers’ franchise record for most playoff road wins.
Unflappable, he has yet to post a sub-.900 game all post-season and could well be the first player since the Anaheim Ducks’ J.S. Giguere (2003) to win the Conn Smythe.
Did Rask save his very best performance for the Final?
“It’s hard to really pick one at this point,” Patrice Bergeron said. “I thought he was tremendous against Carolina as well. I guess I can go down the line. He’s been at his best for a while now.”
Added Cassidy: “I’ve always believed he’s one of the elite goalies in the league. When you win, it really cements that.”
Among Blues, O’Reilly would be our top candidate (FYI, I don’t have a vote). He leads all players in goals and points the Cup Final (4-3—7 in 6 GP), is relentless with or without the puck and carries a three-game goal streak into the season’s ultimate showdown.