‘That’s why you play the game’: Players, coaches thrilled for Game 7 Saturday

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe discusses what the impact of playing in front of a home crowd has made so far in their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Winners advance, losers start scheduling tee-times.

This is the game everyone wants to play. There is nothing quite like Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Three series will end with a do-or-die game on Saturday: The Boston Bruins are in Carolina to take on the Hurricanes (4:30 pm ET on Sportsnet 360), the Toronto Maple Leafs look to shake their Game 7 demons at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7:00 pm ET on Sportsnet) and the Edmonton Oilers look to eliminate the Los Angels Kings (9:45 pm ET on Sportsnet).

Here’s what players and coaches had to say about the best two words in sports:

Bruins vs. Hurricanes

This is far from being Patrice Bergeron’s first rodeo. The veteran centreman will play in his 13th Game 7 but won’t take anything for granted.

“I think you gotta enjoy it, that’s why you play the game and that’s the biggest thing about it is to try to relish the moment and you make the most of it,” Bergeron said. “Obviously, the adrenaline and energy, everything is always increased but that being said it still remains a game of hockey.”

Both teams were able to protect home ice in the series and the Bruins know that they’ll need to break the cycle in Raleigh Saturday afternoon to stay alive.

“We need to win one game on the road,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “We need to have the urgency level, but you try not to talk about the do-or-die mentality. What do we need to do to win the game, what did we do well [Thursday night] to help us win the game, and that’s how we are going to approach it [Saturday].

“I think the guys, a lot of them have been through different levels of hockey. They know what’s at stake. I certainly don’t have to bring it to their attention.”

The Canes are 5-0 in Game 7s since moving to North Carolina from Hartford in 1997. Despite this, coach Rod Brind’Amour said that his team is excited for the game but kept his focus on the three periods (or more) of hockey ahead of him.

“You have to play your best, you don’t win a Game 7 unless you play your best,” he said. “There’s nothing different in the game, it’s just that obviously if you don’t win it you’re done but nothing changes.”

“It’s just that everything matters that much more.”

Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

Where were you on April 20, 2004?

The Maple Leafs are filled with talent but will they win their first playoff series in 18 years? The Lightning fell into one of the toughest first-round series in this year’s playoffs but will they make one more step towards the first Stanley Cup three-peat since Mike Bossy and the 1983 New York Islanders?

One thing is certain: Maple Leafs vs. Lightning Game 7 has the potential to be one of the higher-profile playoff games of the year. For Lightning coach Jon Cooper, it’s quite simply “must-see TV.”

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William Nylander said it’s an exciting moment for this Leafs squad to be able to play another Game 7 at home. A year removed from losing to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, Nylander added that they’ve grown and are ready to take on the two-time defending champs a seventh time.

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“We’ve learned from them and we’re not thinking about those tonight, we’re focussed on [Saturday],”

“I think we came out a little flat in these games, maybe a little scared to lose. We don’t need to be scared to lose. We’ve got a great team and the best team will win.”

Oilers vs. Kings

The Oilers are also at home and will close out the triple-header by attempting to finish off a tricky series against the Kings.

On Friday, Jay Woodcroft praised the support from not only the Oilers fanbase but “the support of our city, we feel the support of most of the province of Alberta. Most of the province.”

During Saturday’s pre-game availability, Woodcroft further reflected on the “privilege” that playing a Game 7 at Rogers Place represented.

“We think it’s a privilege to play for our fanbase,” he said. “We think it’s a privilege to be a proud Canadian franchise and we’re excited about the opportunity to win a game here on home ice.”

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The Oilers faced elimination in Game 6 but rallied for a 4-2 win at Crypto.com Arena to force Game 7 in Edmonton. Despite the magnitude, it’s just another do-or-die game for Connor McDavid.

“It doesn’t feel too much different than a regular game-day,” he added. “It’s obviously a big game for our group and a do-or-die again, something that just faced there in LA.”

“It’s something that we’re comfortable with and we’re looking for a big game.”

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The best part of this trifecta of Game 7s? We’ve got two more to follow it up on Sunday as the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the New York Rangers and the Calgary Flames host the Dallas Stars.

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