Boston goalie Tim Thomas speaks during a news conference following the… (Jim Rogash / Getty Images )
From Vancouver, Canada — They've played this game before, in backyards and on frozen ponds with snow banks for boards and their feet stuffed into extra socks to fit into their hand-me-down skates.
Before a nation eager to reclaim the trophy it considers a birthright, in a city ready to explode with joy, the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks will play Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday. The injuries players are taping and hiding — and there are many — the fatigue built up after six months of travel and more than 100 games won't matter when they meet at Rogers Arena.
Winning the Cup demands unparalleled commitment, but the reward is a unique slice of immortality through engraving the winners' names on the circular silver bands. Those who prevail Wednesday will be remembered long after they are gone, a powerful incentive reinforced by the desire to win for teammates in this still most team-oriented of sports.
"When we're in the garage or driveway playing as a kid and you're fantasizing … you're saying to yourself, 'Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.' You're not saying Game 6, you know?" Boston goaltender Tim Thomas said Tuesday.
"So this is really what every kid dreams about."
There was no dream ending for Vancouver winger Raffi Torres in 2006. Then a member of the Edmonton Oilers, he lost a seven-game finals to the Carolina Hurricanes. That experience will color what he will tell his teammates Wednesday.
"The main thing is to leave it all out there," he said. "It's a chance to bring the Cup here to Vancouver and at the end of the day you don't want regrets out there."
So far, home ice has been an unusual advantage. The Canucks have won each of their three previous home games by a single goal, two by 1-0 shutouts. Roberto Luongo stopped 95 of 97 shots at home but couldn't stop a bucket of beans in Boston, where the Bruins outscored the Canucks, 17-3, in winning their three home games and chased Luongo twice.
Will that matter Wednesday? Or that home teams have won Game 7 of the finals 12 of 15 times over the years?
The occasion demands a memorable performance, not more of the biting, taunting, diving, post-whistle nastiness and debatable hits that have given this series a sour tone.
"I think we need to keep doing what we did at home the last three games. Focus on our game plan, execute it to a T and impose our will on 'em," Canucks center Ryan Kesler said. "Both teams want this, obviously, but we have to be the harder-working team."
The Canucks had difficulty adjusting after they lost Dan Hamhuis to an undisclosed injury in Game 1 and Aaron Rome to a suspension for a late hit on Bruins winger Nathan Horton in Game 3, but their depth has allowed them to cope. With winger Mason Raymond out because of a vertebrae compression fracture he suffered after being shoved into the boards in Game 6, Jeff Tambellini is likely to return to the lineup, though in a limited role.
The Bruins miss the scoring touch provided by Horton, who suffered a concussion on that hit. He become an inspirational leader and accompanied the team to Vancouver, where his gear will hang in his locker. In his absence, the Bruins have gotten contributions from support players, notably Michael Ryder, Daniel Paille and Brad Marchand, and will need them to step up. They believe they can overcome a hostile crowd and their past futility here.
"The main thing for us has to be to focus on our game and not everything around us," workhorse defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "It's going to be crazy. Everybody's going to be watching."
And wondering whose Game 7 dream will come true.