- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
BOSTON — The Boston Bruins have everything to lose in Game 7 against the Florida Panthers on Sunday night.
Foremost, a loss would mean elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But a first-round ousting would also make their record-shattering regular season just another footnote in the NHL’s “Presidents’ Trophy curse” file. Further, a defeat could be the end of an era, as veteran stars Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci both could play their final games with the franchise.
Krejci said he’s not thinking about the future ahead of Game 7.
“Just really excited for Game 7 and not thinking about anything past that,” said the 37-year-old, who returned to the Bruins after playing last season in his native Czech Republic.
But their teammates admitted that continuing a playoff run with Bergeron and Krejci is part of what’s driving them.
“You can look everywhere for motivation, but that’s a big one,” said winger Taylor Hall. “I just think overall, it’s about not letting this be our last game as a group, not just [Krejci] and Bergy. It’s a special group and this is obviously the biggest thing that we’ve faced. If we get through this, the sky’s the limit.”
The Bruins held a 3-1 series lead before losing two straight games to the Panthers, including a 7-5 defeat in Sunrise to force Game 7. As a result, lineup changes are expected for Boston.
While coach Jim Montgomery wouldn’t reveal his starter for Game 7 back in Boston, there were strong indications at the morning skate that Linus Ullmark would be replaced by 24-year-old Jeremy Swayman, who made a brief appearance in Game 4 but otherwise hasn’t started a game since their season finale on April 13.
Swayman and Ullmark were a tandem in the regular season, with Swayman appearing in 37 games and posting a 24-6-4 record. He has a .907 save percentage and a 3-3 record in seven playoff appearances. While Ullmark hasn’t been his dominant self in the series against Florida, the team in front of him has also not played to its standards.
“There’s been some uncharacteristic mistakes, but those happen. It’s playoffs. Weird things happen,” Hall said. “You can’t beat yourself. You can’t give them momentum and chances and power plays, because that’s how the game slips away.” The Panthers have preyed on those mistakes to force the series to seven games — something star forward Matthew Tkachuk predicted would happen after Florida avoided elimination in Game 5.
“For this entire playoff series, it’s been us against the whole hockey world and what everybody says,” said Tkachuk. “It’s going right at the head of the beast when you’re playing in Boston.”
Bruins forward Charlie Coyle said his team will relish the pressure that the Panthers had been feeling for the last two games.
“They’ve played a few games for their backs. Now ours are,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they won the last two or we won the last two. It’s one game now.”
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