BOSTON — Asked what edge his team has over the St. Louis Blues in these Stanley Cup finals, Boston Bruins Coach Bruce Cassidy hesitated, wary of providing bulletin-board material before the series even started.
“I’ll go the easy route,” Cassidy said two weeks ago. “I just believe that our guys that have been there — have won a Cup, have lost a Cup — that should give us an edge. Some people disagree with that once you’re here, but I believe it will give us an edge.”
Boston has five players who were part of two previous Stanley Cup finals — 2011 against Vancouver and 2013 against Chicago — and the Bruins can boast playing in (and winning) the most recent Stanley Cup finals Game 7, in 2011. Captain Zdeno Chara, 42, will set an NHL record with his 14th playoff Game 7 on Wednesday night. Meantime, the Blues could become the first team in 30 years to claim the Stanley Cup without a previous winner on the roster.
“They have obviously more experience, but we don’t worry about it,” St. Louis center Brayden Schenn said. “We have had a lot of ups and downs in this series, this season and this playoffs that have gotten us to this point. Anything can happen in one game.”
Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy realized the benefit of championship experience in the locker room before Game 6 on Sunday. This is the 21-year-old’s third playoff run, but with his team on the brink of elimination on the road, the magnitude of the moment got to him. “I’ll just be honest with you: The emotions, like, crap, it’s a lot,” McAvoy said after the game, a 5-1 Boston win.
A moving speech from top center Patrice Bergeron — who might have been inspired by a pregame speech Mark Recchi gave the Bruins in 2011 — helped settle down the team, and then veteran winger Brad Marchand came up with the opening goal in the first period. The poise and savvy from both showed why clubs regularly pay a premium for free agents or trade additions who have championship experience.
“Of course you’ve got to rely on your experience in these games,” Bergeron said Sunday. “You need to know what’s coming, and obviously we expected a big start from them. I thought we managed that pretty well, and getting that first goal was huge.”
Marchand and Bergeron are two of 11 players to score two goals in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup finals; no one ever has had a hat trick. And Boston is 6-1 all time with an opportunity to clinch the Stanley Cup, but the 2013 loss to the Blackhawks might be more motivating.
“You realize when you get to this point how hard it actually is, especially the longer you’ve been around the league,” Marchand said. “You look at some guys that have been around a long time, and how few opportunities you get. … It’s the best thing in the world for the team that wins, and it sucks for the team that loses. Being on both sides of it, you realize how hard it is, and just how [expletive] it is to lose. It sticks with you forever.”
Blues forward David Perron played on this stage a year ago — he was on the Vegas Golden Knights team that lost to the Washington Capitals — and he said “the best way to put your best performance is not to think about the importance of the game” too soon, but save that energy for the three hours before puck drop. St. Louis will draw on its experience from this season, overcoming a poor first half that had the Blues last in the league to start January.
“I don’t really think it’s experience,” center Ryan O’Reilly said. “We have a lot of mature hockey players in our room. It’s not like we’re super young. We have lots of veterans, and at the end of the day, it’s another game. It’s doing things the right way and investing in it the right way and you go from there. We have to outwork them and be more disciplined than them, and it’s those little details. Obviously the stakes are higher, but that’s the exciting thing about it.”
Told of Cassidy’s comments about his championship-proven core giving Boston an edge, St. Louis General Manager Doug Armstrong said he would also tout the team’s experience if he was a member of the Bruins. “But it is what it is,” Armstrong said before the series. “The puck’s going to drop, and the guys are going to have to adjust to what’s happening. …
"Hopefully a year from now we’ll say, jeez, St. Louis has got a lot of championship experience.”