BOSTON – It all comes down to this. Virtually every player on both teams has had this vision, either on a driveway or a backyard rink.
Game 7. Stanley Cup final. The winning goal.
Somebody's dream is coming true Wednesday night in TD Garden.
The Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues will stage the NHL's first ultimate game in eight years, since the Bruins' 4-0 win in Vancouver in 2011. And it will be the 17th such showdown since the final went to a best-of-seven format in 1939.
There's no maybes to this one. The Cup is going to be raised, either by the Blues for the first time in their 52-year history or by the Bruins for the seventh time.
"It's why we play the games," Boston center Patrice Bergeron said Tuesday. "It's moments like these. You've got to enjoy it and obviously get ready to go. It's a long journey to get here."
Wednesday will mark the first Game 7 of the final the Bruins have hosted through 95 years in the NHL. Captain Zdeno Chara is going to set the record for most Game 7s played in an NHL career with 14. By night's end, he'll be hoping to raise the Bruins' first Cup on home ice since Bobby Orr's overtime goal beat St. Louis in 1970.
"We're expecting the fans to be awesome. The energy is going to be electric," Bergeron said. "I can't even imagine what that's going to be like. You just have to use that to your advantage and manage that. You just have to be yourself and play the same way we've been playing all along and not change anything. Don't overthink and just play."
The Bruins certainly want to parlay home ice into another title but road teams are 4-2 in this series, which each club 2-1 in the other's rink. In addition, the Blues are 9-3 away from home in the playoffs overall and looking to tie an NHL record for a single postseason with a 10th win.
"It's an exciting time to be a hockey player," said Blues center Brayden Schenn. "Win one game and get a chance to lift the Stanley Cup. We would have taken that in January."
The Blues blew a massive chance at the Cup Sunday at home with a 5-1 loss in Game 6, disappointing the throng at Enterprise Center and 40,000 fans who had gathered for a downtown party. They spent Tuesday downplaying any lingering effects from that game.
"If you can take this, you would take it any day of the week, right?" said coach Craig Berube. "We're in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. You should be excited and everybody is excited to go play. It's not really adversity. It's a great challenge and a great opportunity. One game."
It's a game both teams hope will last for generations in their franchise annals. The Bruins have stationed framed portraits around their locker room in both cities of previous Cup titles, starting with shots of Orr's overtime goal and his celebration in 1972 in New York. There are also photos of current players holding the Cup in Vancouver, including Chara, goalie Tuukka Rask and winger Brad Marchand.
"It's cool to catch yourself looking at those," said Boston native Charlie Coyle, who recalled watching the 2011 title as a 19-year-old and heading outside to celebrate in suburban Weymouth. "You see the joy in their faces and you start to think about what that would be like."
Marchand was a rookie in 2011 and had a goal and two assists in the Game 7 clincher.
"You realize when you get to this point how hard it actually is, especially the longer you’ve been around the league," he said. "You look at some guys that have been around a long time, and how few opportunities you get. It’s extremely difficult to get to this point. You need everything to go your way. ... To win is even harder than that. Once you lose, you realize how close it is."
The game will be played on the 10th anniversary of Pittsburgh's 2-1 win at Detroit in Game 7 of the 2009 final, a contest most remembered for Marc-Andre Fleury's last-second save on Nicklas Lidstrom. It comes on the 35th anniversary of the last Game 7 title match in Boston, the Celtics' 111-102 win over the Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals at the old Boston Garden.
"In the basement, just playing with your brothers and your buddies, and playing shinny stick, you dream about it," said Blues forward and St. Louis native Pat Maroon. "You’re calling out the lineup and who you want to be as players. So this is the moment that every kid dreams of. I know everyone’s excited in that locker room.”