President John F. Kennedy wasn’t talking about winning the Stanley Cup when he declared that we do important things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
With the most famous of Boston accents, JFK implored us to go to the moon in 1961. A half-century has passed and in a similar vein, Bostonians will long remember these 2019 Cup Finals not because they were easy, but because they were hard.
Whatever you make of the St. Louis Blues and their sandpaper, physical, on-the-line and sometimes over it brand of hockey, they turned what many expected to be a walk into one of the hardest journeys the Bruins have ever taken.
Should the Bruins hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup following what’s shaping up to be an epic Game 7 Wednesday night at TD Garden, the championship will be among the most satisfying of the dozen won by Boston teams in this century. Specifically because the Blues made the Bruins earn it.
It was easy to forget the kind of contempt that builds during a great hockey playoff series when Boston romped through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Each round was easier than the last — in the conference final, the B’s made Carolina look like Salem State playing Salem High in a sweep.
Had the B’s demolished the Blues in five-or-so games, the Cup might’ve felt a little empty. All the lucky breaks went Boston’s way, all the NHL’s great teams lost early, etc. Not so now that St. Louis has risen to the occasion, playing the type of North-South, disciplined and in-your-face hockey that is simultaneously detestable and respectable.
So who wins this Game 7? Who knows.
We may see the first Finals Game 7 hat trick. We may see the first Finals Game 7 overtime bout since 1954. We may see the highest scoring Finals Game 7 ever, or the lowest; Ron Hextall’s Finals Game 7 record of 40 saves may be shattered.
We just don’t know. This series has been harder to forecast than a January Nor’easter, with the road team winning four of six.
Experience may favor Boston. The B’s have several players — Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara — that played in the NHL’s last Cup Finals Game 7, winning in Vancouver in 2011.
Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, more-or-less lights in these 2019 playoffs, has won three of his four career Game 7 starts, all of which have come on home ice at TD Garden. Tending the net with most famous trophy in North American pro sports on the line could be career defining for the unflappable Finn.
“It’s what you dream about as a kid,” Rask said after Tuesday’s practice, “Hopefully kids are still dreaming about it and not just playing Xbox. Getting out there and playing some pond hockey.”
Since the TD Garden opened, the Bruins are 5-5 in the building in Game 7’s. Under Chara’s captaincy, they’re 6-5. On average, these do-or-die games amount to a coin toss; if two teams are dead even through 18-plus periods of hockey, there’s not much else it can be.
“It’s the most exciting game in all of our lives. I think whoever maintains their composure and discipline within their system, how they play, how they approach the game, is probably going to prevail,” B’s defenseman Torey Krug said.
St. Louis lacks Cup Finals experience but does have several players that skated in winner-take-all Olympic gold medal games: Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester for Canada and Alex Steen for Sweden. On that note, Boston’s Bergeron (Canada), Marcus Johansson (Sweden) and David Backes (for USA in 2010) have played in gold medal contests.
When Boston won the Cup in 2011, it out willed a more skilled Canucks club in seven games. There’s little question Boston is the more skilled outfit this time around, but at times in this series they’ve been out willed. In winning Game 6 on the road Sunday night, the B’s got their will back. As a result, they’ll have more than 17,000 Black-and-Gold clad fans willing them on Wednesday night.
“The energy is going to be electric,” Bergeron said. “The atmosphere, I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like.”
Sixty minutes, at least, of tight and hard-nosed hockey with everything on the line. Every break away chance turning the stomach, every dash of mayhem in the crease putting your heart in your throat. This is the stuff we sports followers live for, very much because it is hard.
Contact Matt Williams at 978-338-2669, MWilliams@newburyportnews.com and follow along on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.