— As the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks prepare to take the ice for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday at Vancouver's Rogers Arena, a few things are certain.
One of them is going to leave the ice with the Stanley Cup. Momentum is meaningless. And someone is going to be a hero.
That someone might not be the someone you'd think.
Sometimes, Stanley Cup finals Game 7 scenarios are decided by the legends of the game. Montreal Canadiens stars Jean Beliveau (1965) and Henri Richard (1971) scored Game 7 Cup winners, as did Mark Messier of the New York Rangers and the Detroit Red Wings' Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe (1955).
But in Detroit's other two Game 7 victories in Cup finals play, lesser lights — Pete Babando (1950) and Tony Leswick (1954) — scored the winning goals in overtime.
“To be in the game and have the opportunity to be the hero — it's not something where you go out there with that mindset — but usually, it is maybe a third- or fourth-line guy, or a defenseman that didn't score too many goals that ends up getting the game winner,” former Red Wings checking forward Kirk Maltby said.
In 2009, the last time the Cup finals went the distance, Pittsburgh grinder Max Talbot made the difference, scoring both goals in the Penguins' 2-1 triumph over the Wings. The 2006 Cup finals between Carolina and Edmonton also went to Game 7, and journeyman Hurricanes defenseman Frantisek Kaberle — brother of Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle — dented twine with the Cup winner.
Bruins forward Mark Recchi was on that Hurricanes team. He also won a Cup with the Penguins in 1991 and knows that this setting is what every youngster with a hockey stick dreams of when playing on the driveway or the backyard rink: scoring the winner in Game 7 of the Cup finals.
“This is what we dream of, when you're little kids playing street hockey, you know, you're in Game 7,” Recchi said. “The biggest thing is just embracing it. We've had pressure all year, pressure all through the playoffs. It's come down to one game.”
Since the NHL went to a seven-game format for the Cup finals in 1939, this will be just the 16th time the series has gone the distance. The Bruins, whose franchise was born in 1924, never have played a Game 7 for the Stanley Cup. The Canucks, who joined the NHL in 1971, have done it once and came up empty.
The Canucks never have won the Stanley Cup, and the Bruins have gone without Lord Stanley's mug since 1972, so whoever wins Game 7, it will be a huge deal for years to come. Boston also is seeking to become the first team in NHL history to win three Game 7s en route to a Cup triumph.
The best way to deal with the intensity that accompanies a Game 7 is to embrace the opportunity to achieve what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Go play, go out and have fun with this,” Recchi said. “It's what you play for and what we've worked hard for all year. We're going to have a blast doing it.”
As bad as things look for Vancouver following another drubbing in Boston — a 5-2 thrashing in Game 6 — history suggests that the Canucks remain in the catbird's seat.
“We're going to win Game 7,” Canucks forward Daniel Sedin said in their dressing room immediately after the Game 6 setback, a statement as much based in reality as it is bravado.
In 15 previous Game 7 encounters in Stanley Cup finals history, the home team has won 12 times. In only six of those 15 games has the Game 6 winner gone on to win Game 7 as well. Included in that group of failures are the 1994 Canucks, who rallied from a 3-1 series deficit against the New York Rangers only to come up short in Game 7, a 3-2 loss at Madison Square Garden.
That's another thing to anticipate Wednesday: It's going to be a close game. All three games in this series played in Vancouver have resulted in one-goal decisions, as have seven previous Stanley Cup finals Game 7 contests, two of which were decided in overtime.
In Game 5, the Canucks put aside their failures in Boston during Games 3 and 4, and Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault is confident they will do so again.
“We're going back home,” Vigneault said. “We've got home ice. We worked all year long to get home ice. Our fans are going to be excited, and our players are going to be excited.”
The home team has won all six games in this finals set, and it's only happened three times in Stanley Cup finals history that the home team held serve through the entire seven-game set — when Detroit toppled Montreal in 1995; when Montreal handled Chicago in 1965; and when New Jersey beat Anaheim in 2003.
On the other hand, Montreal, against Chicago in 1971, and Pittsburgh in 2009 against Detroit, both won Game 7 on the road after the first six games of the final went to the home teams.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has lived both scenarios. He was on the losing side as a player with the 2003 Ducks before leading the Pens to glory six years later. As much as Bylsma knows there will be a Game 7 hero, he's also aware that someone may be haunted as a Game 7 goat.
That was the fate of Chicago goalie Tony Esposito, who missed Jacques Lemaire's floater from outside the blue line with the Blackhawks ahead 2-0 in Game 7 of the 1971 finals, sparking Montreal's rally for a 3-2 victory at Chicago Stadium.
As far as Bylsma is concerned, he should wear the goat's horn for the Ducks' 2003 shortcoming. Early in Game 7 in front of the New Jersey net, Bylsma got his stick on a point shot, but Devils goalie Martin Brodeur got enough of the puck to save it.
"That was a chance when it was 0-0, and I do remember it vividly," Bylsma said. "That's going to happen in this next game. There's going to be a chance."
It might be off a blocked shot, on a power play, or perhaps from a broken play. But someone will take advantage and emerge heroic.
For six years until he tasted Stanley Cup glory, Bylsma lived with what might have been. "It's not something that I like to think about, but it's pretty much burned into my memory," he said.
Byslma understands what both teams are going through, and what they will go through in their memory banks for years to come.
"That play's going to be a lot of guy's sticks in this game," Bylsma said of the potential Cup-winning shot.
The one who converts the chance will live forever in hockey lore.