YOUNG LEAFS HAVE CHANCE TO CRE­ATE GAME 7 MEM­O­RIES

Some of th­ese Toronto play­ers have ex­pe­ri­enced it be­fore, but never as a group

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - STEVE SIMMONS Bos­ton ssim­mons@post­media.com twit­ter.com/sim­mon­ssteve

The dream is never about scor­ing an over­time goal in Game 62 of the reg­u­lar sea­son. It is never about scor­ing in Game 5 of a play­off se­ries.

The dream re­mains con­stant and un­changed for any­one who has ever taken shots with a frozen ten­nis ball on a drive­way with a half-put-to­gether Cana­dian Tire net. It is al­ways Game 7. It is al­ways over­time. It is usu­ally the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal.

Now it’s April and Game 7 is upon the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Bos­ton Bru­ins. Only it’s dif­fer­ent for th­ese mostly young Leafs. This is new. This is spe­cial. This is a first for this group in its en­tirety. Oh, some of th­ese play­ers have been in Game 7s be­fore, just not to­gether — and no mat­ter what ends up hap­pen­ing, it will be mem­o­rable.

Leafs coach Mike Bab­cock calls it fun. He hasn’t al­ways said that, but this is his nar­ra­tive, his mes­sage for the day. He didn’t call it much fun when his Ana­heim Ducks lost Game 7 of the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal in 2003, as a rookie coach, los­ing that cham­pi­onship to Lou Lamor­iello’s New Jer­sey Devils.

He didn’t call it much fun when his Detroit Red Wings lost the op­por­tu­nity to win two straight Stan­ley Cups, bow­ing out to Sid­ney Crosby and the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins in 2009.

In all, Bab­cock’s teams have played in nine Game 7s: His win­loss record is 4-5.

“This is an op­por­tu­nity of a life­time,” Bab­cock said. “This is what we’ve talked about. Tonight, this is fun. This is where you want to be. You want to be in th­ese mo­ments in your life, you re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing in your life. But you re­mem­ber mo­ments. Here’s an op­por­tu­nity for us to cre­ate mem­o­ries with a good group of guys that like each other a lot.

“We want to have a good play­offs. Now we’ve got to go to Bos­ton, get some clam chowder, and win a game.”

This is To­mas Plekanec’s fourth Game 7 against the Bru­ins. There is no resid­ual ef­fect around him and most of his team­mates from Toronto los­ing Game 7 with a 4-1 lead in 2013. That wasn’t this team. Some of the play­ers re­main, but few of the ma­jor play­ers.

Plekanec’s first seven-game se­ries against the Bru­ins was in 2008. They met again in 2010 and 2011 and then in 2014 while he was play­ing with the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens. Mon­treal and Bos­ton seem to go seven games every time they meet.

This is the stoic Plekanec’s sixth ca­reer Game 7: His record in the first five games, 4-1. He is un­likely to be rat­tled Wed­nes­day night at a rowdy TD Gar­den.

James van Riems­dyk has been part of two fa­mous Game 7s. He was part of the 4-1 col­lapse by the Leafs. Be­fore that, he was part of the re­mark­able Philadel­phia Fly­ers, who trailed Bos­ton three games to none in 2010, then trailed 3-0 in Game 7 be­fore com­ing back to win the game and al­most the Stan­ley Cup that sea­son.

Th­ese are sto­ries for him to tell at an­other time — mem­o­ries, as Bab­cock calls them. For a young team like the Leafs, look­ing for its first bit of play­off suc­cess to­gether, a win could be mon­u­men­tal. It could carry them places they never thought pos­si­ble.

But a de­feat is so stark and so sud­den. Es­pe­cially af­ter bat­tling back. Th­ese teams, Bos­ton and Toronto, are too good and too var­ied to be elim­i­nated in the first round. They both should be ad­vanc­ing if the NHL was a lit­tle more ap­pro­pri­ate with its play­off for­mat. This is a se­ries that has changed in every game and some­times in every pe­riod and of­ten from mo­ment to mo­ment.

The Leafs were outscored 12-4 in the first two games and looked like they didn’t be­long in the same ring with the Bru­ins. In the past four games, the Leafs have outscored the Bru­ins 12-9. In the past two games, Fred­erik An­der­sen has faced 78 shots: His save per­cent­age has been a re­mark­able .949. In the past two games, Tuukka Rask has faced just 42 shots af­ter be­ing pulled in Game 5, record­ing a save per­cent­age of just .857.

Does that trend con­tinue? His­tory says no. There is no con­tin­u­ing trend. One game doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into the next. But some­times in a play­off se­ries, a goal­tender can get into the heads of the shoot­ers.

And Pa­trice Berg­eron, with a semi-break­away in Game 6, did the il­log­i­cal. While in alone, rather than shoot­ing, he passed the puck to David Pas­tr­nak. This may be noth­ing. But it may be a sign An­der­sen has got to the Bru­ins’ best play­ers. Maybe.

There is no way to pre­dict Game 7. The story un­folds as it will. Mem­o­ries? Maybe.

Let the game and the games be­gin.

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