For the ninth time in the storied history of their rivalry, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will face off in a decisive Game 7, as the clubs battle for a berth in the conference finals Wednesday at TD Garden.
The Original Six foes are deadlocked at 3-3 in the Eastern Conference semifinals and this evening's game in Boston will decide who gets to face the New York Rangers in the third round. The Rangers earned a spot in the East finals after beating Pittsburgh, 2-1, in Game 7 on Tuesday night.
No rivalry in major professional sports has featured as many Game 7 battles as the one between the Bruins and Habs. Montreal is 5-3 in Game 7s against Boston, but the B's claimed the last one with a 4-3 overtime victory at TD Garden on April 27, 2011. The Bruins, of course, went on to win their first Stanley Cup title since 1972 after surviving that opening-round series with Montreal.
This marks the seventh straight season Boston will play a Game 7, setting a new NHL record. The Bruins were tied with Colorado (1998-2003) for that distinction.
All told, Boston is 13-11 in Game 7s but has won four of its last five. The Canadiens are 13-9 all-time in decisive seventh games and had won four straight Game 7s before losing the 2011 clash against Boston.
After losing Games 4 and 5 to fall behind 3-2 in the series, the Canadiens forced tonight's contest by posting a 4-0 home win on Monday. In order to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 2010, Montreal will have to win in Boston for the first time since posting a double-overtime victory in Game 1 of this set.
The Bruins, who are the top seed in the East and the defending conference champions, are 4-2 at TD Garden in this postseason. The club rallied for a 5-3 win in Game 2 and recorded a 4-2 win in Saturday's Game 5.
"Go home, and get the job done," said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron about tonight's decisive battle. "We have to -- it's about using (the fans) to our advantage in Game 7. That's why you work for the home ice. You've got to go home and be ready."
Carey Price stopped 26 shots for his first shutout of the playoffs in Monday's Game 6 at the Bell Centre. Thomas Vanek scored twice, Max Pacioretty had a goal and an assist, and Lars Eller scored the other goal for the Canadiens.
"At the end, we came out hard," said Vanek. "They played hard too, had some push-backs, but Price played great, as he has for all the series. We found some ways to score tonight."
Montreal's Nathan Beaulieu recorded an assist while making his NHL postseason debut in Game 6. Beaulieu, a 21-year-old defenseman, replaced Douglas Murray in the lineup and made a big impact when he sprung Pacioretty on a breakaway early in the second period. Pacioretty scored on Boston's Tuukka Rask to record his second goal of the playoffs and first since getting the game-winner in Game 4 of an opening-round sweep over Tampa Bay.
"There were no passengers in this room tonight," said Pacioretty. "I got a bounce and waited for my chance. There was a bounce there and it landed on my stick."
Rask gave up all four goals on 28 shots for the Bruins, who were blanked for the second time in these playoffs. Boston also was shut out 1-0 by Detroit in the opener of the conference quarterfinals before winning the next four games to take the series.
"We should have had the momentum in this game," said Rask. "I don't think it carries over from the last game, as long as you regroup after a loss. How we handle it is how we prepare for the next one. We can't forget about what happened tonight. At the end of the day, I thought we played a pretty solid game, but we gave them some gifts."
Boston holds a definite edge in terms of Game 7 experience, as Bruins captain Zdeno Chara leads all players in this series with 10 appearances. Bergeron and fellow Bruins forward Milan Lucic are next with eight Game 7s apiece.
Brian Gionta leads Montreal with six Game 7s and the Habs captain is confident the less experienced Habs can pull off the series upset with a road win on Wednesday.
"We've felt confident all series against these guys," Gionta said. "We know we can bring it to them when there's no tomorrow. There's nothing to be afraid of."
Montreal forward Danny Briere was back on the ice after being a health scratch for Game 5. He played just over 10 minutes in Game 6 and didn't record a shot. Briere, however, has played in four Game 7s and has two goals and three assists in those tilts.
Bergeron and Lucic lead all players in this matchup in Game 7 scoring. They each have four goals and two assists, while Boston's Brad Marchand has two goals and three helpers over five Game 7s.
Price and Rask are each 1-1 in Game 7s. Montreal's netminder has a 1.91 goals against average and .932 save percentage in those outings while Rask has a 3.87 GAA and .855 save percentage.
This is the 34th playoff meeting between these teams, and while Montreal has won 24, Boston has won the past two series, which includes the seven-game battle in 2011.