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Calm before the 7 storm

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  May 26, 2011 08:54 AM

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I went to bed last night with my wife telling me, "It's only a hockey game."

She's right, of course. In the grand scheme of things, last night's loss should have no bearing on how I act in front of my children, my inevitable hospital bill, or the foot-sized hole in the family room wall I'll need to patch. In no way should a hockey game cause marital stress, overbearing emotional outbursts, or sleepless nights fretting over the fear that Johnny Boychuk is going to see more ice time.

Tomorrow night, the Bruins and Lightning will play Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Garden with a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs at stake. No biggie. 

If you want the good news after last night's crushing, mind-numbing, only-a-game 5-4 loss in Tampa Bay, it's that the Bruins have not lost back-to-back playoff games since opening the postseason against Montreal last month. The line looks like this: L-L-W-W-W-L-W-W-W-W-W-L-W-W-L-W-L, which believe it or not is nearly identical to Claude Julien's playoff DNA. There's just one missing link to complete the string and I haven't the slightest clue what it is.

For all we know, Guy Boucher could summon Frederick Arthur from the dead and have him take faceoffs tomorrow night. Who knows what's up the man's sleeve for Game 7? Last night he questioned the refereeing, got significant calls, then sneered at Julien's own questioning whether or not anything the Lightning coach said had anything to do with it. Today he could come out and announce a new date for the Rapture, and yes, I'd believe him.

Tomorrow will be the second Game 7 for the Bruins this postseason. They had to win the first one in overtime, which is typical of the palpitations they've stirred since mid-April. It will be the latest in a season a game has ever been played in Boston, and it could end a 21-year finals drought. I won't even ask if it's too much for them to win the thing 5-0, because even if they're up 5-0, you and I know it's likely to end 5-4. Or worse. Children throughout New England ought to wear earplugs tomorrow night, because the language coming from their elders will probably be about as salty as a Cape Cod marsh. My 11-month-old son learned a few new ones last night, much to the dismay of his mother. 

"It's just a game dear."

It is. And it isn't. In the end, Bruins fans should be fairly happy, win or lose, tomorrow night. This is a team, mind you, that as of two years ago had not won a playoff series in a decade. As of this year, it had not won two series since 1992. Thirty-nine years. And with a young nucleus like the Bruins have, what's one more calendar rotation, right?

Sure you could think that way. And I would urge you to move to Tampa.

This is the closest the Bruins have been to the Cup Finals since 1990, which was about what, four or five young nucleuses ago? And despite the win in the Montreal series, the Bruins have dropped Game 7's to Philadelphia, Carolina, and Montreal in the Julien era. The one victory came on a Nathan Horton slapper in OT. This is all making me very nauseous.

But if they drop another one tomorrow, of course it isn't life or death. Nobody of sane mind will argue that. And yet hockey at this time of year produces fanatical emotions like no other sport. The frenetic pace of the game - Boston power plays excluded - lends to TV coaches everywhere grabbing their sticks too tight. Sticks in this case being shots of Wild Turkey.

There will be no idiotic noisemakers at the Garden tomorrow. There will be no Mayberry T-shirt whiteout. In their place will be the simple, heart-stopping hope that it's not to be the last game played on Causeway Street this season.

Will there be joy?

It is only a hockey game. It is only Game 7, and only for a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Don't get so worked up about it. 

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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