BOSTON – Wednesday night a new Stanley Cup Champion will be crowned; whether it is the Boston Bruins or the St. Louis Blues is still to be determined, but the contest marks the 17th time a Game 7 will be needed to decide who will lift Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Current NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp knows all about playing – and scoring – in a deciding Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final. The 2003 Stanley Cup champion netted the game-winning goal in the New Jersey Devils 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks.
Sporting News sat down with the 10-year NHL veteran, who is in Boston as part of NHL Network’s Game 7 coverage, to reminisce about his own Stanley Cup Final glory and what the Bruins and Blues are facing Wednesday night.
(Editor’s note: The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
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Sporting News: You walk into the arena for Game 7. What’s going through your head, everyone’s heads, leading into that game?
Mike Rupp: It’s kind of funny, I always say that it’s probably one of the more relaxed games I ever had prior but I give that credit to the veteran guys that were joking around. The fact that I think sometimes you’re in those situations, and I was a rookie, you don’t know how to react; but we had guys that throughout the season, maybe if it was game 21 or game 82 or Stanley Cup Final Game 7, they joke. If they were joking around and keeping it light-hearted in November, they’re doing it in June.
So that was big for me because I’m just sitting back waiting to see how people are going to respond and I think that that was big, just take it as another game.
SN: Calm leading up to the game, but what was it getting onto the ice for warm-ups, the game itself with the home crowd? Were there any nerves?
MR: I felt abnormally calm before the game but I was very nervous until I got my first shift because it was probably three shifts into the game until I got my first shift so you just want to get that first shift over with and get out there. Once you get through that, it seems to just kind of flow a little bit more but I just remember that over the course of the game I know we’re up 3-0 in the third [and] maybe there’s seven minutes left in the game and the way that the Devils played back then, a 3-0 lead with Marty Brodeur in net, that’s pretty secure and you don’t feel like it is. You’re doing the math there you just trying to figure out okay, man, can’t let him get one there’s still time, there’s still time. . . . That’s probably the most nervous was looking at the scoreboard and those last six, seven minutes just going by so slow seemed like an eternity.
SN: Take us through the goal, your first-ever playoff goal that was the game-winning and Stanley Cup-clinching goal.
MR: I didn’t play until the finals in the playoffs. So when I came in Joe Nieuwendyk was out with an injury. So I got put in his place. So I was put into a really good situation. Jamie Langenbrunner, Jeff Friesen, that line was making up one of the best lines in the playoffs.
So I remember in that game, we were buzzing, and it was just trying to get down in the corner with the puck and winning the battle and get it out to the defenseman. It was Colin White I ended up passing the puck out to and he took the first shot and it got blocked and went to Scott Niedermeyer – and he’s one of the best in the league with getting shots through. So I just remember my job and get the puck from the corner to the D and then bust my way in front of the net. The puck just came and got a deflection on it and just barely thread the needle going through the [Ducks goaltender Jean-Sébastien] Giguere’s legs and that was it was pretty awesome.
SN: What was going through your head after?
MR: I think it was like, well that just happened.
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SN: Was it everything you thought of as a little kid, scoring that game-winning goal in a Game 7?
MR: I’d be playing with Wayne [Gretzky] with the Oilers and doing those things. It is really weird because it kind of just brings you back, you’re a little kid in that situation. You play through it all your head 100 million times and now it’s just oh, my gosh, I actually am going to have the puck on my stick in this game now that I’ve dreamt about my whole life. So I think just being excited about it is the biggest thing and yeah, it’s more than what I thought it would have been.
SN: And you weren’t even sure you were going to play in the game.
MR: The rumor was that Nieuwendyk might try to play in Game 7, which in turn, I thought that I’d be back out because he’d go back into his spot. So I didn’t know. I never really got confirmation to the day of that I was going to play and it was pretty much because Nieuwendyk came in and he spoke to the team and had tears in his eyes was upset because he wasn’t going to have this opportunity with us; but he gave us a great you know a speech help us and we started kind of looking at doing it for Nieuwie and that’s when I knew I was in so and I’m like all right here we go.
SN: You had three points in the game (goal, two assists). Hate to use the word pinnacle, but was that the greatest moment of your career?
MR: Certainly, it really set the bar high. Then you sitting there thinking . . . well, these guys now have one in ’95, 2000 they won, 2001 they lost in the finals and then 2003. So in eight years time won three Cups, went to the finals four times. So I’m thinking if I just stay here, I mean, I’m going to play in probably three, four or five finals. Yeah. doesn’t work that way.
I think it really just made you hungry the rest of your career and it the thing for me is once you taste it early on, you don’t want anything else like you don’t. You don’t care about anything else but getting back there.
SN: What was it like lifting the Stanley Cup?
MR: I didn’t know the proper protocol because I was a rookie and I only played the last four games. I’m not going to be the guy that’s gonna jump in front of the picture and lay in front of the Cup or go get the Cup right from Marty; I was just waiting for someone eventually, hopefully, just thinking I just hope they remember me.
I ended up getting it. It was awesome. I mean, I don’t know you have certain images in your head of guys lifting the Cup that you saw when you’re a kid and now I get to do it.
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SN: What is your take for Wednesday night?
MR: The biggest thing I think… is the first goal? How are you going to respond if the other team scores?… I think that we had a really good mindset and I was always told it not to look at what’s at stake, but what’s the opportunity that it is, and that’s a really different mindset when you’re going into it because I wasn’t scared to try things.
You have an opportunity to do something really special and, but what happens when the other team goes up in the game? And what are you going to do now to wrestle that back into your favor? So that’s going to be the biggest thing, but I think whoever can get that mentality of this is this scenario that you’ve wanted since you’re a little kid, look at it that way as opposed to, what if? You can’t have that kind of mindset.
SN: Is all the pressure all on Boston?
MR: Yeah it is. This team had the third best record in the National Hockey League this year, so they should be here. St. Louis wasn’t supposed to be here. They weren’t supposed to be in the playoffs… they obviously have something to lose [too], but the pressure is definitely on Boston.
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