WASHINGTON -- It wouldn't be the Stanley Cup playoffs without the Boston Bruins playing a Game 7.
After a 4-3 overtime win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Washington Capitals, the Bruins will host Game 7 on Wednesday at TD Garden.
The atmosphere at the Garden should be rocking as usual. The players realize that even though this series has been tight, the Bruins have played some of their best playoff hockey on home ice.
Then in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning on May 27 in Boston, Horton did it again, scoring late in the game to give the Bruins a 1-0 win in probably the most exciting game witnessed in Boston in recent history. Both goaltenders, Boston's Tim Thomas and Tampa's Dwayne Roloson, were spectacular. Thomas made 24 saves for the shutout, while Roloson finished with 37 in a penalty-free game.
The Bruins' Game 7 dramatics did not end there.
After a crucial 5-2 win in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Vancouver Canucks on Garden ice, Boston traveled to British Columbia and hoisted the Cup on hostile territory as the Bruins finished an historical season with a 4-0 victory.
Boston has a chance to advance to the semifinals this season if they can repeat that Game 7 magic at home against the Capitals on Wednesday.
"Obviously we have guys who are excited to play in those games," said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference. "Obviously, I'm glad it's going back [to Boston] and it's been the type of series that's been so close that it deserves a Game 7. It's kind of fitting that either team has not given the other team too much in the way of leads, or being able to hold onto leads. It's been a good hockey series and a Game 7 is well deserved on both sides."
Even if many Bruins fans, and some "experts" (including this one) did not expect this series to go the distance, the players did.
"Oh, yeah," Ference said. "You always expect it and that's what you plan for. You plan for the hardest a team can play against you. It's not like anybody goes in thinking anything's going to be easy in the playoffs. There's been enough lessons around the league the last few years, especially this year. Every team has an equal chance once you get there and that's what you prepare for."
The Bruins felt a major sense of desperation on Sunday, especially with only 21 hours between the end of Game 5 on Saturday in Boston and puck drop on Game 6 here. It was simple, actually: Win and force a Game 7, or lose and officially end their title defense.
"We're a character group and we've been through this before and we know what it takes," said assistant captain Patrice Bergeron, who is playing with an undisclosed injury. "It's not over until you get that fourth win. Tonight was a huge effort. We played well and found a way to live another day. We need to be ready for Game 7."
Even Bruins coach Claude Julien said he expected this series to reach Game 7.
"It's fitting for us," said the coach. "I know that for a fact. I don't know that it was fitting for them before tonight's game. When you look at the way the series has been played, you're right; it's been a dogfight from start to finish.
"Late goals or overtime games -- I think it's three overtime games now. As they say, it is what it is, and I think both teams are heading into Game 7 with the same kind of confidence. They've beaten us twice in our building, and we've beaten them twice here [at Verizon Center]. For us, it's time to take advantage of that home ice that we've fought hard all year to get and we have to make it count."
Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was incredible in each of the three Game 7s last spring, and in order for Boston to advance, he needs his best game of this series.
"That helped us as a group, knowing that it's not over," Thomas said of last season's heroics in the playoffs. "Maybe a less-experienced team would get down, 3-2, and think that it's too stacked against you. We know that there's the possibility of coming back, but we also know how hard it is to come back. The guys stepped up and the whole team was willing to do it tonight."