Looking ahead to Game 7

24 hours from now, we should know the fate of the 2011-2012 Boston Bruins. Either they’ll be celebrating a Game 7 win, or lamenting a first round exit, wondering what woulda, coulda, shoulda been.

Since I didn’t get around to writing anything after Game 6, here’s a quick look ahead at tomorrow’s seventh and deciding game. I decided to do this a little differently: reasons to be positive, and reasons to be concerned. ENJOY.

Reason to be positive

Tim Thomas: Thomas is 9-2 in elimination games in his NHL career (losing to Montreal in ’08 and Carolina in OT in ’09), a great reason for B’s fans to be confident heading into tomorrow night. Thomas has had to share the spotlight with the impressive Braden Holtby over the course of this series, but has been pretty impressive himself, with a GAA of 2.18 and a save percentage of .918. He’s made a number of big stops in this series, saves that have either preserved a Bruin lead or kept them within striking distance. Thomas won three Game 7’s last year, and should be plenty confident going into another one this year.

Reason to be concerned

Yes, Tim Thomas: As good as Thomas has been at times, he’s also allowed some uncharacteristically soft goals. Alex Ovechkin got off a great shot on Washington’s third goal on Sunday, but it’s a save Thomas has to make. An awful rebound led to a big Mike Knuble goal in Game 5, while Troy Brouwer’s game-winner just a few minutes later was as bad of a goal as I’ve seen Thomas allow all year. On Knuble’s goal, the puck trickled in just past Thomas’ outstretched stick; one couldn’t help but think back to Thomas’ save on Steve Downie in last year’s Conference Final. Has his luck run out? (Apparently not, as made clear by Stick Save Redux on Marcus Johansson on Sunday.) Last spring, there was no player with a bigger role in the B’s Cup win than Thomas. If they’re going to make another run, they need him to be solid, not shaky.

Reason to be positive

First line wake-up? For the Bruins, nothing in this series has been more disappointing than the performance of the “big guns,” particularly David Krejci, Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand. None of the four had a single point in the series’ first four games, a drought of near-epic proportions. However, they’re all showing signs of snapping out of it: Marchand had a goal and an assist in Game 5; Krejci and Lucic each have three points in the past two games; and Seguin had a two-point afternoon on Sunday, including the game-winner in overtime. Seguin has been the most snake-bit Bruin, consistently whiffing on quality scoring chances. All four were in the doldrums; now, all four appear to be rounding into form at the right time.

Reason to be concerned

How healthy is #37? Patrice Bergeron is certainly playing tomorrow night; Claude Julien stressed that to reporters today. However, he didn’t take many (if any) face-offs on Sunday, and is apparently still feeling the effects of multiple collisions on Saturday. Bergeron is one the league’s best face-off men, and losing his draw ability is big. If the B’s lose more draws than they win, Washington’s mobile/puck-moving defensemen get more of a chance to control their breakouts and run their set plays. To me, Bergeron’s injury appears to be something with his shoulder or chest. There has to be some reason he can’t take the draws, and I assume it’s probably something with the stresses taking face-offs puts on the upper body. Bergeron is a warrior, and would play tomorrow even if he was only 50% healthy. However, he’s clearly injured, and that’s a cause for concern.

Reason to be concerned

Stealing one: Bruins fans are sick of hearing about how great Holtby has played, but it’s more out of frustration than anything else. Anyone with eyes should be able to admit that the kid has played a hell of a series thus far, making big save after big save and keeping the Caps in the game time after time. If one remembers last year’s Game 7 against Tampa, Thomas said afterwards that his concern in that 1-0 instant classic wasn’t that he’d allow a goal, but that the cagey vet Dwayne Roloson wouldn’t. Holtby is hardly the grizzled goalie Roloson was, but he has the talent to steal a game. And at this point, that’s all the Caps need him to steal: one game.

Reason to be positive

Power up? Surely that’s a typo, right? Nope, the Bruins’ power play appears to be cashing in at the right time. They’ve scored a power play goal in each of the last two games, and while many comparisons were made between this year’s struggles and last year’s debacle against Montreal, the man advantage hasn’t looked nearly as bad this year. The B’s have been moving the puck well with the extra man, and a goal seemed imminent for a while. It’s highly unlikely that tomorrow’s game will be another penalty-free affair like the Tampa game last year, and the B’s may need a timely power play goal. The two power play goals the team has scored over the last two games should have the two units flying high; here’s to hoping that confidence translates into a puck in the back of the Caps’ net and some “Zombie Nation” on the Garden speakers.

So what’s the verdict?

I picked the Bruins to win in six, so clearly I think they’ll win tomorrow. I think the “big guns” have finally awoken, and that Seguin and Marchand in particular are in for big nights. However, the real reason I think they’ll win is that there isn’t a team in the NHL more prepared for a pressure-packed Game 7 than the Bruins. The core that won a record three Game 7’s in the same playoffs last spring is still intact, and shouldn’t feel any nerves going into tomorrow night. The B’s have a ton of experience to fall back on: they were in a tie Game 7, a Game 7 where they led from wire-to-wire, and a Game 7 in which they blew multiple leads and won in overtime. The point is, they’ve played in a bunch of Game 7’s, and they were all different. The biggest key? Getting the first one. An early goal from the B’s will have the Caps scrambling, and could lead to more goals on the counterattack. Get one early, and plant a seed of doubt into the Caps. If the B’s can do that, they’ll be fine.

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About BHN Dan

I'm Dan, a Boston native who runs Bruins Hockey Now, a website dedicated to independent coverage of the Boston Bruins.
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