DENVER -- The Stanley Cup will be in the house. So close, Ray Bourque and the Colorado Avalanche can almost touch it - yet, to the New Jersey Devils, so near but so far away.
Game 7s in the Stanley Cup finals occur only once a decade or so, which will add some extra mystique when the defending-champion Devils, their chance to clinch the cup at home now gone, play the Avalanche on Saturday night for the most cherished prize in hockey.
It will be the first time since 1994 that the cup is guaranteed to be handed off at some point in the night, and only the third time since 1971 - the last time a team pulled off what the Avalanche are attempting to do by rallying from a 3-2 deficit in the finals.
Game 7s in any series carry with them an air of nervousness and finality, with one team assured of seeing its season end in defeat. But this game, this Mile High showdown of unquestionably the NHL's two premier teams, with three Stanley Cup titles between them since 1995, promises to be a highlight reel for hockey for years to come.
Bourque alone makes it so.
This will either be the shining moment of his distinguished 22-year career as one of hockey's best defensemen, or the most excruciating letdown possible for a man who has unsuccessfully chased the Stanley Cup since Jimmy Carter was president.
Win or lose, cup or no cup, retirement or not, Bourque understands he may never get this close to the cup that he has never touched, explaining that only those who have won it deserve the chance to handle it.
To not win would almost be the cruelest punishment of all, to lead Bourque to the brink of his greatest success in hockey only to leave him with the heartbreak of knowing his Mission 16W - the 16 wins needed to claim the cup - came up one W short.
"This will be the biggest game of my career," Bourque said. "This is the first time I'm really playing for the cup. I'm having a blast, and I'm really looking forward to that game."
But, in a series where momentum and home ice advantage (the visiting team is 4-2) have meant almost nothing, the Avalanche now have both following a 4-0 victory Thursday night that at least delayed the Devils' second consecutive cup clinching for two days - or waylaid it forever.
Now it is the Avalanche who will be at home with the Stanley Cup in an anteroom, awaiting its next possessor. Now it is the Avalanche, and not just the Devils, who control their own destiny. Now the Avalanche have the momentum, not the Devils, who had seized a 3-2 series lead by winning two in a row.
"It doesn't get any more important than this," Colorado coach Bob Hartley said. "This is when you see the real warriors, the guys who perform well under pressure."
The guys like ... yes, Ray Bourque, who is 7-1 in Game 7s, with the only loss coming last year in the Western Conference finals against the Dallas Stars.
New Jersey beat Toronto in a Game 7 earlier in the playoffs (as the Avalanche did against the Kings) and Philadelphia in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals a year ago. Also, the Devils proved last year they can win the cup on the road, doing so in Game 6 in Dallas.
However, they could have lost that game and still won the cup in game 7 at home. This June, there is no margin for error, no mulligans if they fail. This is one game for the title - or, as Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko said, "It's just like the Super Bowl."
This will be the 11th time the finals have gone to a Game 7, with the home team winning eight times so far. The last time a visiting team won a Game 7 was 1971, when the Montreal Canadiens completed their comeback from a 3-2 deficit by winning in Chicago.
Asked what positives the Devils can take into the final game of this NHL season, goaltender Martin Brodeur said, "Well, at least we saved our energy."
That shouldn't be a problem Saturday - injuries tend to heal themselves and tired players become energized in a Game 7, when any error can cost a season, any goal can win a title, every player gives that little extra he wasn't sure he had.
"Two great teams are going back and forth," the Devils' Bobby Holik said. "May be the best team win."
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