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Stanley Cup Final: Boston’s veteran core got the job done to force Game 7

Stanley Cup Final: Boston’s veteran core got the job done to force Game 7
Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask congratulates defenseman Zdeno Chara on his empty-net goal during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 9. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

An empty-net goal by Zdeno Chara in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final was meaningless. The outcome had already been secured and the mission completed by the Boston Bruins.

But there was something metaphorical in the box score.

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Chara, 42, is the oldest member of a veteran base of Bruins that tapped into their experience to force a deciding Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday at TD Garden. Five Boston players — Chara, Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci — remain from the Bruins’ 2011 Cup-winning team.

From the toughness of Chara, who is playing with a full-face shield and cage because of a jaw injury, to the pregame pep talk of Bergeron to the unflappable goaltending of Rask, Boston prevailed in Game 6 with its leaders.

“We’re lucky to have them,” center Sean Kuraly said Monday. “You look to them and can feel comfort in that, follow their footsteps and know you’re walking in the right direction.”

Chara is set to play in an NHL-record 14th Game 7, eclipsing a mark set by Patrick Roy and Scott Stevens. His 22 minutes, 15 seconds of playing time in Game 6 were the second-most for the Bruins, and that included more than three minutes shorthanded. Rask outplayed rookie Jordan Binnington, who allowed a crushing goal on an odd bounce from Brandon Carlo and was beaten by Karson Kuhlman on Boston’s third goal. Marchand planted the seed with the game’s first goal, his first since Game 1.

Torey Krug pointed to “veteran leadership” when asked about staying consistent as a team.

“It’s a big part of it,” Krug said. “Collectively as a group, we’ve been able to accept all the circumstances. Regardless of what’s in front of us, we accept what’s happened, put it behind us, then we move forward. That’s the mentality of this team.”

The historic twist to Wednesday is that it will be the first time Boston will host a Game 7 in the Final in its 95-year history. St. Louis failed to grab the moment Sunday, and Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said that with his team in a similar position, “you’ve got a lot of new friends all [of a] sudden or old ones are coming out of the woodwork.”

But Cassidy doesn’t worry about distractions.

“They’ve been in a Game 7 before in the Stanley Cup Final [in 2011],” Cassidy said. “They’ve lived it. We’ve been in Game 7 at home against Toronto [in the first round]. The Stanley Cup’s not at stake, but if you don’t win [that] you have no chance at [the Cup]. There’s a certain amount of pressure our guys are used to having, and in this situation, both teams like the pressure that’s on them.”

The Blues are on the opposite end of the experience scale. The only players with Cup rings are Jordan Nolan with the Kings and Oskar Sundqvist with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Nolan hasn’t played since January and Sundqvist was a fringe player with Pittsburgh. Otherwise, the last time a team won the title without a previous Cup winner on its roster was the 1989 Calgary Flames, according to TSN.

St. Louis is short on experience but it could be argued that it’s irrelevant in a winner-take-all game between two evenly matched teams. In the first five games of the series, the score was tied or separated by one goal for more than 253 minutes of the nearly 304 minutes of total playing time, according to the NHL.

It seemed like a foregone conclusion that St. Louis would raise its first Cup, at home, going into Game 6. The downtown streets overflowed with fans set for a huge party. Before the game, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch accidentally posted congratulatory advertisements on its website that were later removed.

The Blues can still make it happen.

“I’m already excited for the next game,” said winger David Perron, who went to the Final last season with the Vegas Golden Knights. “It’s going to be the best game of our life. We’re going to put everything on the line, empty the tank. It’s going to be exciting.”

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