BOSTON - Joffrey Lupul is one rare Leaf with rich memories of Game 7.
"I scored in overtime," he said with a laugh ahead of the all-or-nothing match with the Bruins on Monday night.
It was the spring of 2008. Lupul and the Flyers were on the road for the decisive tilt in America's capital, consecutive losses in Games 5 and 6 sending the series back to the Verizon Center. The now 29-year-old, one of only five Leafs with previous Game 7 experience, scored six minutes into overtime to catapult Philadelphia into the second round.
"That's the one great thing about Game 7's and just the playoffs in general," said Lupul, who has scored 17 goals in 45 career postseason games. "Maybe if you haven't been satisfied with how things have went for you personally; I know there's some guys on the team that didn't have maybe the year that they wanted personally, statistic-wise, whatever. You go and make a big play tonight, set up a goal, score a huge goal tonight, that's all people are going to remember about your season."
And so it was almost poetically, after his error in overtime of Game 4 led to the Bruins snatching a 3-1 series hold, that Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf made a "big play" on Sunday night, the 28-year-old tipping home the first goal in an emotionally charged 2-1 Game 6 victory.
Phaneuf is one among many Leafs who have stepped to the forefront and improbably thrust the favoured Bruins onto the ropes in this series; James Reimer outdueled Tuukka Rask on consecutive nights, Phil Kessel iced a pair of game-winners, Clarke MacArthur scored a pair after sitting in the press box, Jake Gardiner rediscovered his rookie season form, James van Riemsdyk found another gear and Cody Franson continued a breakout campaign.
"I think it's good to want to be the hero for sure," said Lupul, a quiet force against the Bruins, tied for the team with three goals, second behind van Riemsdyk with four points. "Obviously you're not going to go out there and just start playing an individual game or anything, but certainly you can't be afraid of big moments. I think every player should want to be the guy that makes a difference tonight."
Despite facing elimination in the past two games and responding with gutsy efforts, Leafs coach Randy Carlyle expects the nerves to be ramped up when the series decides itself at the TD Garden on Monday night.
"I think on the surface you can say that," Carlyle said of most recent do-or-die scenarios, "but I think inside there's going to be nervousness with everybody involved."
"Got to win a game, that's what it is," he continued. "If we're going to continue we have to win a hockey game."
"I think guys are a little antsy," MacArthur conceded mid-morning on Monday. "I'm actually glad it's a back-to-back, get right back into this thing tonight. We're happy with the win last night, but at the same time there's still that big gap, you don't want to come this far and not be able to close the deal out."
Unlike the Bruins, who were stranded in Toronto overnight with mechanical issues on their team plane, the Leafs landed in their downtown Boston hotel shortly before 2 a.m. The group reconvened for meetings in the morning, eager to rest and refresh ahead of the biggest game of the year and in many cases, career.
"Probably haven't played a game as big as this," Jay McClement grinned, one of the more experienced Leafs. "Game 7, Stanley Cup playoffs, doesn't get much bigger than that."