There's nothing more exciting in hockey than a win-or-go-home Game 7, and tonight the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning will both be playing their second rubber match of these playoffs tonight at 8pm ET.
Before the puck drops on this one in about five hours, here's a few pregame notes and observations to set the stage for what could be one of the best, but also one of the most boring games of these playoffs.
Boring, you ask? How could you ever call a Game 7 boring?
Well, to put it plain and simple, both these teams know that one mistake can result in potentially the game winning goal going into their net so you can bet the coverage will be tight, there will not be a lot of risks taken, and teams will be playing their most defensive and tentative hockey they can while waiting for the other squad to make the mistake or take the penalty.
And while this does create some hockey that true fans can really appreciate due to its pure perfection (and believe me I do appreciate it), it can be a little bit dull to watch when neither team can really get any decent possession time beyond their own side of the red line.
So what are the keys to winning tonight and having a shot to play for Lord Stanley?
For the Bruins, they're at home and they need to use not only what's sure to be a rocking crowd to their advantage, but the other rules, such as last change, as well. They need to keep the matchups they want on the ice when they want them, and they'll have the opportunity to do that at home.
Additionally, they need to be solid defensively.
With the exception of a wild 11-goal 6-5 triumph in Game 2, the Bruins have failed to win each game in this series when more than five goals have been scored in the game.
In fact, Tampa Bay's victories have come in games where seven, eight and nine total goals were scored.
The Bruins' other two wins came in two-goal and four-goal games.
If the Bruins are solid defensively, and play well in front of Tim Thomas, they've proven they can frustrate what is probably the deepest offense in the East this season by holding them to a very low scoring total, and even a shutout in Game 3.
However, as good as the Bruins can be defensively, they're not going to win this game if Tim Thomas doesn't play strong behind them.
This series has been a roller-coaster for the American goaltender who's had nights of sheer brilliance making jaw-dropping saves, but has also allowed five goals in four of the games so far this series.
And it would also be great for the Bruins if an MIA Milan Lucic would come alive and give some support.
For the Lightning, they're going to have win a game on the road, which they proved very early on that they can do, taking Game 1 convincingly by a 5-2 score.
However, tonight will be a different story, and they're going to win this in a fashion very similar to that of how they took Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Quarterfinals (yeah remember that... doesn't that feel like such a long time ago?).
They are also going to have to be spot on defensively, as Boston has proven they can tear right through them if they sleep for even a second.
The bottom line is they're more than likely going to have to do something they have not yet done in this series: win a low scoring game.
They're going to need another big night from Dwayne Roloson, who has been dazzling in net most of these playoffs, and appears to have bounced back remarkably well from getting pulled earlier in this series.
Additionally, someone is going to have to step up and be a hero, and the Lightning would really appreciate it if someone from their top line of Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos (incidentally, the owner of the worst playoff beard still left playing), to answer the call after being held pretty dry for most of the series.
Additionally, their unsung heroes need to have a good night as well, including sudden big-scorer Sean Bergenheim, whom the Lightning would love to get a goal from.
This series has been dead even almost the entire time.
To this point, the Lightning have 21 goals and the Bruins have 20.
Both teams have won at the TD Banknorth Garden, the site of tonight's game.
Both teams will be playing their 18th game of these playoffs.
I can't really tell you who's going to win, because honestly it could be either of these teams, but it's going to be a brilliant matchup tonight in Boston and one you most certainly will not want to miss.
The game will be broadcast on Versus, CBC and RDS tonight starting at 8pm ET.
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