BOSTON -- Nearly one year ago, the Chicago Blackhawks celebrated a Stanley Cup championship on TD Garden ice.
They hoisted hockey's sacred chalice after beating the Boston Bruins in six games. As devastating as that loss was for Boston and its fans, if the Bruins lose to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series Wednesday night, it will be much worse than the loss to Chicago.
Last spring, the Bruins were plagued by injuries in the Cup finals and the Blackhawks simply were the better team and deserved to win. This season, the Bruins were the best team during the regular season and finished as the Presidents' Trophy winners. At the start of the playoffs, they were the odds-on favorite to win the Cup. They've remained relatively healthy and their lineup is mostly intact.
If the Canadiens come to Boston and win Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference finals to face the New York Rangers, it will be an epic fail for the Bruins. Yes, it will be worse than losing in the Cup finals last spring because the expectations for this team are so high and because of all the missed opportunities in this series.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has built a perennial Cup contender. This team has the ability, talent and experience to win another Cup in June. There's no way the Bruins should lose this series. Not to the Habs. And not here.
The Canadiens are a confident team after staving off elimination with a 4-0 win over Boston in Game 6 on Monday at Bell Centre, so the Bruins need to match their opponent's urgency and prove they are the better team.
Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban has been Montreal's biggest villain in this series. The fans in Boston despise No. 76. Every time he touches the puck the majority of the 17,565 in attendance shower Subban with boos. Whether you like him or hate him, Subban is a talented hockey player. Yes, he flops, ducks and exaggerates, but he's not the only player to make such moves an art form. And it's hard to overlook the fact that he has been arguably the best player in the series with four goals and three assists for seven points.
After Montreal's 4-0 win in Game 6, Subban did not lack for confidence. He wants nothing more than to shut up Bruins fans with a Game 7 win in TD Garden.
"It's going to be great," Subban said. "I can't wait for the crowd, the noise, the energy in the building. I can't wait to take that all away from them."
Subban is an emotional player, and his teammates feed off that energy. When the puck drops Wednesday night, Subban said he doesn't care how hostile the fans might be.
"I don't give them that credit. I go and play the game," he said. "I play to win. I don't care who's there. I don't care if there's nobody in the stands. I'm going there to win. It's irrelevant to me. I hope that it's a hostile environment, it makes it all better."
It would be appalling for Bruins fans if Subban and the Canadiens celebrate a Game 7 victory on Garden ice, especially this season. It could get ugly on Causeway Street if things unravel in such a fashion.
While Subban and the Canadiens have capitalized on Boston's miscues in the series, the Bruins too often have failed to convert on quality scoring chances. Too many times the Bruins rang the puck off a post or crossbar, and they've missed a few open nets. Had Boston scored on those opportunities, this series might already be over.
"If you hit posts and miss open nets, you've got to bury those chances, and [in Game 6] they came back to haunt us," Bruins coach Claude Julien said.
In order to win a Stanley Cup, a team must have luck on its side. The Bruins experienced that firsthand when they won in 2011, but the puck has not been bouncing their way in this series.
"You've got to find a way to finish -- it's as simple as that," Julien said. "Whether it's a little bit of puck luck, whether it's us not burying our chances and having to bear down, it doesn't matter at the end of the day. You've got to find a way."
The Bruins have made too many mental mistakes and have played uncharacteristically sloppy hockey at times. Boston not only needs its leaders to make their presence felt, the entire roster needs to contribute. The Bruins are at their best when Julien can roll all four lines.
Boston's defense needs to be better and goalie Tuukka Rask needs to provide a Vezina-worthy performance.
If Montreal wins in Boston on Wednesday night, it will be catastrophic for the Bruins. Boston is the better team and needs to play like it in Game 7. This will be the Bruins' toughest challenge this postseason. If successful against Subban and the Canadiens, there's no reason to think the Bruins won't achieve the ultimate goal.