Game Sevens don’t lack for anticipation. But the decisive NHL Eastern Conference tilt tonight, Friday, May 27, between the host Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden is generating a positively Pavlovian response in Beantown.
The battle between the Bruins and Lightning — who are fighting for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Vancouver Canucks beginning Wednesday, June 1 — is not just the only game in sports-mad Boston tonight (the Red Sox are in Detroit playing the Tigers and the Celtics were eliminated from the NBA playoffs more than two weeks ago). It is the only playoff game in America thanks to the swift fashion in which the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat advanced to the NBA Finals earlier this week.
The Game 7 is the first in the NHL’s conference finals since 2006. The Bruins, meanwhile, haven’t hosted a Game 7 this late in the playoffs since 1988, when they won Game 7 of the conference finals against the New Jersey Devils, and are trying to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1990. Since then, Boston’s other sports teams have rewritten the city’s reputation as lovable losers by winning a combined six world championships.
The Bruins, who haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1970, have done their best old school Red Sox impersonation lately by losing in the most heartbreaking fashion possible: The Bruins were eliminated in a Game 7 in each of their last four trips to the playoffs (2004, 2008, 2009 and 2010) and lost the decisive game at home three times — including last year, when the Philadelphia Flyers came back from a three-goal deficit to beat the Bruins and complete their comeback from a three-games-to-none deficit.
Oh, and Memorial Day weekend is officially underway, and the lousy weather in New England means most people passed up on going to the beach and will instead be home and eager to head into the city for the biggest game of the year.
“Pretty big deal,” Ace Ticket president Jim Holzman told TicketNews. “Perfect storm. I may be the happiest guy in America if we win [tonight] or I may be the most despondent if we don’t. We haven’t won a Cup in 40 years. Game 7 — this is certainly a big one.”
After the Lightning forced a Game 7 by coming back to win Game 6 in Tampa, 5-4, Wednesday night, May 25, Holzman said the Ace Ticket offices remained open until 2 a.m. EDT selling tickets to the winner-take-all tilt. Despite the brisk business, Holzman said it was still a buyer’s market as of Thursday, May 26, with tickets going for as little as $200 — a reasonable deal on the secondary market considering the cheapest ticket at Ticketmaster was $109.50.
But Holzman said he wouldn’t be surprised if the prices rose dramatically today as the urgency and demand built and the supply fell. As of this afternoon, there were a little less than 600 tickets available at StubHub.com ranging from a $200 seat in the balcony to an $8,779 seat in a suite.
“[Today is] a whole new day and the market could jump,” Holzman said. “I think the inventory is going to dry up because the season ticket holders aren’t selling and [fans] aren’t going to be able to get enough of them.”
The storylines are also going to lure fans who might otherwise not be interested in the NHL. Like in most American cities, hockey ranks last in popularity among the major sports in Boston, but the Bruins’ agonizing pursuit of the Stanley Cup, as well as their exciting playoff run this year, has resulted in a growing bandwagon.
The Bruins opened the postseason by coming back from a two-games-to-none deficit to edge the rival Montreal Canadiens in seven games before exacting revenge for last year’s loss to the Flyers by sweeping Philadelphia in four games. The Lightning series has been a taut affair, with the two teams separated by just one goal overall (the Lightning have outscored the Bruins 21-20) and the Lightning mounting gutsy comebacks at home in Game 4 to avoid falling into a three-games-to-one hole and in Game 6 to avoid elimination.
“In a city like Boston, the teams are so good and the Bruins are the only team that hasn’t been to the big dance the last 10 years,” Holzman said. “I think what you find is 10 percent of the population are about hockey, but when it’s big and exciting like this, the interest I would say has tripled. And the TV ratings indicate that — during the season they were doing a 5 and in the postseason they’re doing a 15-20.”