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TAMPA, Fla. -- It comes down to Game 7.
One game will decide the Eastern Conference finals between the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, with the winner moving on to play the Vancouver Canucks for a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup to end the 2010-11 season.
The toughest game to win. Only one victory. There will be a winner. There will be a loser.
At TD Garden in Boston on Friday night. Does it get any better than that?
After the Bruins' 5-4 loss to the Lightning in Game 6 on Wednesday night at St. Pete Times Forum, coach Claude Julien told his team this is the reason it worked all season to secure home-ice advantage. He said this is the reason you play a grueling 82-game season.
"That's one of the key things that if you can get home-ice advantage this time of year, you need to take advantage of it," Julien said. "We did against Montreal, and now we need to do the same thing against Tampa."
The Bruins can take a positive out of the Game 6 loss, knowing that they battled and nearly pulled off a comeback. Boston's top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton contributed in a big way. Krejci netted a hat trick, Lucic chipped in with a goal and an assist, and Horton added two assists.
"We were able to fight back and gave ourselves a chance," Lucic said. "We pushed hard in the end and had a lot of fight in the end, and we've got to keep playing the way we finished it off."
|After allowing five goals to the Lightning in Game 6, Tim Thomas has one more chance to lead the Bruins to their first Cup final since 1990.|
The Bruins' Patrice Bergeron wasn't happy with the team's lack of a full 60-minute effort but was encouraged by the near-comeback late in the game.
The Lightning led 5-3 after Martin St. Louis scored at 10:15 of the third period. Krejci's third goal at 13:28 made it 5-4, and the Bruins buzzed the net the rest of the way but couldn't tie it up. Boston needs to find a way to bottle that energy for Game 7.
"The positive we can take out of this game is we never stopped. We showed character and we need to build on that," Bergeron said.
As Julien mentioned during his postgame news conference, Boston has experience this postseason finishing off an opponent in Game 7. The Bruins beat the Canadiens in a thrilling 4-3 overtime victory in Game 7 of the quarterfinals at the Garden.
"We showed some character against Montreal, and we've showed character during all the playoffs. Now it comes down to one game," Bergeron said. "It's about making sure we're keeping our chins up, heads up and make sure we're ready for that game."
It was that game and that series that set the tone for the Bruins this postseason, and that experience could pay dividends Friday on home ice.
"We were able to make the most out of that chance," Lucic said. "We came up big and played the way we wanted to play. I remember having a great start in that game, and that's the same thing [for Game 7]."
It all comes down to one game. One more victory is the only thing keeping the Bruins from reaching the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990.
The Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, and the core of that team -- St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier -- remains. They know it will be a challenge, albeit an attainable one, to go into Boston and win on the road in order to advance to the Cup finals.
"We knew it was going to be a long series," St. Louis said. "This is a good team, and it comes down to one game. Luckily and fortunately, all of our team has been through a Game 7." Tampa Bay beat Pittsburgh in a do-or-die game in the first round.
"Some of us have played more, but we've had that experience and we know what to expect," St. Louis said. "The fourth win is always the toughest one to get, and we know both teams will battle hard to get it."
Despite the loss in Game 6, the Bruins seemed confident they could go home and take advantage of being there. An entire region's fans are counting on it. The Bruins have said time and again that this has the potential to be a special season.
It has been so far and it could get even better. One victory. That's all it would take in Game 7.
"We have to leave everything on the ice and have no regrets," Bergeron said. "We need to play desperate. We need to play our game. We need to play to win."
That was the collective mindset around the locker room after Wednesday's loss. Each and every Bruins player sent the same message. Now it's a matter of going home and finishing the job and not falling victim to a major letdown, which is exactly what it will be if the Bruins lose.
And they know it.
"For all of us, it's the biggest game of our careers," Lucic said. "We've got to go out there and have no regrets. You've got to be confident. You've got to believe. Everything is on the line here. It's a chance to move on and play for something that you've been dreaming about your whole life."
Vancouver is waiting. Boston and its fans have been, too.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.