They’re excited, not nervous.
And the waiting is the hardest part; and challenges are fun, and oh never mind.
It’s Game 7 between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, nothing that is said on Wednesday will matter or be remembered in a few hours’ time.
When a reporter jokingly asked Montreal winger Brendan Gallagher – whose only game seven experience came in junior hockey (his team won) – what his favourite cliché was for the situation, he said “I believe in all the clichés. I like them all . . . do or die.”
It’s fun to parse stats and tendencies – the Habs’ Game 7 record is better than Boston’s, but the home team is usually favoured, etc. – but the plain fact is this contest will come down to performances, both individual and collective.
As is customary in pressure situations, much of the attention will focus on the goaltenders.
Montreal fans will be encouraged by the fact that Carey Price will play his fifth elimination game of the season on Wednesday – counting the Olympics, he has a 4-0 record when facing a win-or-go-home situation.
Oh, and he’s given up precisely one goal in those four games; stopping 95 of 96 shots fired at his net over that span, for an ungodly .989 save percentage.
Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges, one of Price’s closest friends on the team, said he’s noticed subtle changes in the 26-year-old goalie, whose lone game seven win came in his rookie year.
Some of that has to do with maturity, some of it with big-game experience in Sochi with Team Canada.
Price has always been a cool, relaxed guy, but Gorges said he’s “maybe a little more so.”
“For us to see how calm he can be . . . it’s a great thing to have,” said Gorges, who for the record looked pretty calm himself.
At the other end of the ice, Boston’s Tuukka Rask is no sieve even if he’s had trouble in his career at TD Garden against Montreal.
But he’s won his last two straight home starts against the Habs, he won a tense game seven last year against Toronto, and he plays behind a team that has won four of its last five game sevens (come to think of it, Montreal has won four of its last five as well, the loss came in 2011 at TD Garden).
Each side has callow rookies who are feeling the crushing weight of expectation and pressure – “I fell asleep really quickly, but when I woke up during the night it was a different story,” said Habs rookie Michael Bournival – each side also has grizzled veterans who have seen it all before.
Experience matters, and the Bruins have more Stanley Cup winners in their lineup.
But goals are important to, and Montreal has scored more of them in this series.
And the coaches?
Claude Julien has been here before – often – whereas Michel Therrien has not.
Both men essentially said the same thing, but Julien stated it more succinctly: “I have no nervousness at all, I’m just really excited.”
Hockey players become experts at shutting out distractions, but if a player like Boston’s Patrice Bergeron is willing to admit to feeling some pregame jitters, it means everyone else is too.
“I’m happy to hear that because I’m pretty nervous, too. Obviously, it’s exciting. I’m sure once the puck drops it’ll be a normal feeling,” Gallagher said. “It’s exciting right now. You grow up watching Game 7s and you see the intensity and the emotion on the players’ faces. To be a part of that tonight is going to be pretty cool.”
The Habs will take to the ice for Game 7 (7 p.m., CBC, RDS) in the knowledge that a sold-out Bell Centre will be watching on scoreboard monitors.
Although it’s not a though that will cross anyone’s mind during the game itself.
“No, because we know they’re watching anyways. Whether it was at the Bell Centre or on the couch, there’s more than 22,000 people watching this game and hoping for us to come out on top,” Gorges said.
For all the Hollywood scenes of rousing dressing rooms speeches by coaches and inspirational leaders, players on both sides said the atmosphere before a seventh game is generally subdued.
Bergeron, who is the heart and soul of the Bruins, deflected questions about whether he planned to say anything to the team before they come down the tunnel.
“Well first of all, if there was anything (planned) I wouldn’t talk about it here with you,” he smiled. “At this time of year, given the situation we’re in, I don’t think it takes much for everyone to find the energy that you need to be ready.”
There’s a semi-famous story involving the Game 7 the Habs played against the Washington Capitals in 2010; defenceman Hal Gill, who had won the Stanley Cup the previous year, was relaxed to the point of nearly dozing off in the dressing room, he also dropped a couple of well-timed wisecracks to cut the tension.
It left an impression on more than one teammate.
At times like this, sometimes laughter is more helpful more than words.