Hockey ready to bloom in Boston

BOSTON -- This has always been a hockey town.

The fan base might go slightly dormant from time to time, but the love and admiration fans have for the Boston Bruins is a major part of the fabric of professional sports in New England.

Sure, the Red Sox, in good times and in bad, have owned the landscape for generations.

But Bruins hockey is special.

There is no such thing as "pink hats" in hockey. There are no casual fans. You're either a hockey fan or you're not. You're either ready to lace 'em up or you're not.

Boston is on the verge of blooming into that hockey town again.

If somehow the Bruins can stave off elimination and defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Friday night at TD Garden, Boston will advance to the conference finals for the first time in 18 years.

If the Bruins can find a way to stop the streaking Flyers, they will give their fans an early Christmas present wrapped in bleu, blanc et rouge as one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports will be brought back to life, as it seems the hockey gods intended.

The Boston Bruins versus the Montreal Canadiens.

Think about that for one second. Think about what it would be like to watch the Bruins and the Canadiens battle for the right to play for the Stanley Cup. It would be epic. The mere thought of it slipping away is tragic.

After the Bruins dropped their third straight game to the Flyers in Game 6 on Wednesday at Wachovia Center, the players would only smile at the thought of playing the Habs in the conference finals because they wouldn't allow themselves, couldn't allow themselves, to look past do-or-die Game 7.

"It's one game to see who plays Montreal," said Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman. "That would be quite the atmosphere."

If Boston can't get past Philadelphia, it will have suffered one of the biggest collapses in NHL history. In the NHL, teams that have led a best-of-seven series 3-0 have won the series 159 of 161 times. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders were the only teams to come back from 0-3 deficits to win.

"I'm not into the history," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I'm more into the present."

The Flyers want to make the Bruins the third team to suffer such a defeat.

"We're not worried about any of the other stuff [history]. We haven't really done much right now," said Mike Richards of the Flyers. "We've tied up the series, we've fought back, and we still have one game to complete it. They're going to come hard. We have to be ready."

The Bruins had a bit of postseason misfortune not too long ago. A year ago, Boston finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference. Once the Stanley Cup playoffs started, the Bruins swept the Canadiens but then lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 at the Garden in the second round.

Boston, and its fans, can't handle another loss like that, especially with the Canadiens waiting in the wings. The Bruins say they're ready.

"When you're in this position, you have to welcome it. You can't fear it," Julien said. "The good part about it is, if you're going to have a Game 7 and you had the choice, you would certainly want it at home. We've got that opportunity."

The Bruins have another opportunity that they probably don't even realize at this point. They are so focused on the playoffs that they probably haven't had time to think about what it would mean to Boston's hockey community if they were able to advance.

Earlier this week, one of the founding fathers of the Big, Bad Bruins was honored, along with some of his teammates, on the 40th anniversary of the 1970 Stanley Cup championship. Bobby Orr revolutionized the game of hockey on an international level, but more importantly, he revitalized the sport on the local level in a way that has yet to be matched.

Orr is never comfortable talking about his accomplishments. He'll always put the emphasis on the team. He believes this season could be another defining moment for the Bruins organization and the team's fans.

"It would be really nice to see that the Bruins are back," Orr said. "It's so exciting around the city; the Bruins is the talk, and that's so nice to hear."

Although Orr's status in the city will forever be godlike, the longtime owner of the Bruins, Jeremy Jacobs, has been criticized for concerning himself only with the bottom line. Even he believes this could be a special year for the Bruins.

"This is Boston," Jacobs said. "It's a terrific hockey town. It may be the best hockey town there is. We think so. If we keep going, [the fans] will be here going forward. We need this -- really."

The Bruins really need a win in Game 7. If they don't disappoint, the city will be theirs once again.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.