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In Game 7, a Cup legacy can be forged to last through hockey history

Mike Harrington

BOSTON – Legendary names like Mark Messier, Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe have scored winning goals in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. So have journeymen and forgettables like Max Talbot, Mike Rupp, Tony Leswick and Pete Babando.

Another name was going to be added to the list Wednesday night in TD Garden when the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues staged the NHL's first winner-take-all showdown in the final since 2011.

Wednesday's game marked the seventh time in this century the Cup final has extended to the ultimate game, but prior to 2001 there had been a major drought of Game 7s. From 1966-2001, it only happened three times as Montreal beat Chicago in 1971, Edmonton dumped Philadelphia in 1987 and the New York Rangers held off Vancouver in 1994.

Strangely enough, the Habs' win in '71 was the only time since 1954 that the winning goal in Game 7 had come in the third period. Montreal overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat the Blackhawks, 3-2, in Chicago Stadium as Richard scored the tying goal late in the second period and beat Tony Esposito with the winner at 2:34 of the third.

In Wednesday's game, the Bruins dressed five players who were on the club when they beat Vancouver, 4-0, in Game 7 of that '11 final. Goaltender Tuukka Rask was the backup that night to Tim Thomas while captain Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci all had key roles. Marchand, then a rookie, had a goal and two assists in the game.

"The big thing this year is we've been through so much together that we just rely on one another in uncomfortable situations," Marchand said this week. "We rely on uncomfortable situations within our group and our leadership group. When we get through it, we get through it together."

Either Boston's Bruce Cassidy or St. Louis' Craig Berube were poised to become a first-time winner of the Cup as a head coach. Berube, in fact, is still technically the Blues' interim coach after the November firing of Mike Yeo but that label is expected to be removed in short order in the coming weeks.

Cassidy, in his second stint as an NHL head coach after a failed run in Washington that ended in 2004, has drawn raves from Boston players.

"He kind of knows how to get guys going, individually or as a team," Bergeron said of Cassidy. "We all know everyone reacts differently from one to another, so I think he has a good read and a good feel on how to do that and how to handle it. He’s been great. Obviously, he’s very good at adjusting and getting us going.”

Berube righted the St. Louis ship after the Blues slipped to last overall in the NHL's overall standing on Jan. 3. Four days later, rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington came up from the AHL and the season turned around.

The Blues tied a playoff record Wednesday with their 26th game of this postseason. Only four other teams in NHL history have played that many in a single postseason: Tampa Bay (2015), Los Angeles (2014), Calgary (2004) and Philadelphia (1987). Only the Kings won the Cup.

Game 7 was the 108th of the season for Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, tying the former Sabres stalwart with nine other players for the most in NHL history when you combine the regular season and postseason.

“It’s definitely the most hockey I’ve ever played in a year but it’s also the most exciting hockey I’ve ever played, too,” O'Reilly said. “When you’re winning and having success and opportunities like this, it’s easy coming to the rink and practicing and getting on the ice. It’s exciting.”

"He’s our most consistent player from start to finish,” added St. Louis center Brayden Schenn. “Even when the team was playing terrible at the start, he was still a point a game. He was leading us right from the beginning, and he’s been doing it all playoffs.”

Game 7 will leave a legacy for both franchises, no matter the result. The participants spent Wednesday morning trying to fend off media inquiries along those lines. Try as they might, they wanted to keep things as close to normal as they could – even if they knew that was impossible.

"We use that word around here, but I think it’s for much later," Cassidy said Wednesday morning, referring to the legacy question. "So I haven’t thought about mine personally. I just want my name on the damn Cup. That’s what I want. And then we can talk about it however you want.”

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