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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why I Love NHL Game 7s.

Earlier this year I had written a post about the best Sports Finals of all time. The NHL or any hockey game didn’t appear on that list and I received much flack for it. While I am not here to defend that decision, I am here to discuss Game 7s in the NHL. The NHL playoffs are one of the more riveting and drama filled seasons in sports. With teams and their fans growing playoff beards, keeping to their superstitions and hopefully riding that hot goaltender all the way to the Finals, the Playoffs are often called the second season. In Hockey more than perhaps any sport other than Football, the hot team, the hot goaltender can shock anyone else and make their way toward the Cup. Just look at this year, every lower seed had the opportunity to win in the Eastern Conference and teams like Detroit and Vancouver had early exits in the West. As is often quoted by Sportscasters, there is nothing better than a Game 7. When everything you’ve worked for comes down to one final game to move on or go home, the pressure and intensity is at an unmatched level. As kids we all dream of growing up and scoring that overtime game 7 goal. With my NY Rangers and the local Devils both going into a game 7 tomorrow night, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at some of the best game 7s in the history of the NHL. (In No Particular Order)

15.2009 Stanley Cup: Red Wings vs Penguins
Old vs Young; Past vs Prime; either way you look at it. This series was great. Detroit has dominated hockey over the last decade with a few Cups. Pittsburg had reemerged with their young budding stars like Sidney Crosby. The two forces collided in the finals as Pittsburg was able to pull off a dramatic game 7 victory, earning them their first cup since the early Jagr days. Pittsburg pulled out the 2-1 victory on then Pittsburg and now Philly star Maxime Talbot.

14. 2009 Eastern Conference Semis: Hurricanes vs Devils
Up 3-2 on home ice with the great Martin Brodeur in net and less than two minutes left to play, the Devils were sitting pretty. But Jussi Jokinen  scored for the Hurricanes with 1:20 to go. Then Eric Staal  shocked New Jersey by beating Brodeur with 32 ticks to spare on the clock. Carolina goaltender Cam Ward made 32 saves as the visiting Canes shocked the usually reliable and defensively minded devils.

13. 1987 Patrick Division Final: Islanders vs Capitals
Almost 7 hours of hockey were played in this game 7. Known as the Easter Epic, the two teams played 69 minuts of extra time and at 1:57am, Pat LaFontaine scored in the 4th overtime as the Islanders moved on. Isles goalie Kelly Hrudey made a stunning 73 saves.

12. 1979 Wales Conference Finals: Canadians vs Bruins
The “too many men on the ice” game. The Bruins had a 4-3 lead against the three-time defending Stanley Cup champions with four minutes left, but got caught with too many on the ice. Guy Lafleur's subsequent power-play goal tied the game with 74 seconds to go. Yvon Lambert delivered the crushing blow with a goal at 9:33 of OT. A killer loss for the Bruins, one that stayed with them for a long time.

11. 2002 Western Conference Finals: Avalance vs Sharks
Can you imagine leading 1-0 for the second half of the game and holding off the opponent? Well that is exactly what Patrick Roy dd. After Forsberg scored in the second, the Avs held off San Jose’s 5-3 in the final 55 seconds to win the drama filled game.

10. 1993 Patrick Division Final: Islanders vs Penguins
The Penguins were two-time defending champions with Jagr and Lemieux but that didn’t scare Glenn Healy. The Islander goalie made 42 saves and held off the Penguins who came back to tie the game after being down 3-1. The Islanders won it in overtime ending the Pittsburg dominance.

9. 2011 Western Conference Semi-Finals: Sharks vs Red Wings
No team wants to lose after going up 3-0 in a series, especially if you have failed over and over again in the playoffs. The Sharks were able to avoid this in the crazy 2011 series. There were six 1 goal games and after the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead, forcing a game 7, the Sharks were able to hold off the Red Wings on Patrick Marleau’s third period goal.

8. 2011 Eastern Conference Finals: Bruins vs Lightening
In this recent classic, Tim Thomas stopped all 24 shots in a very tense game 7. Nathan Horton scored with 7:33 remaining for the game’s only goal. This paved the way for the Bruins who went on to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in over 20 years.
2011 Eastern Conference Quarters: Bruins vs Canadiens
Nathan Horton was a stud. With more overtime game winners than I count in the post season, Horton put home a slap shot with 5 minutes left in overtime to urge Boston on. After winning 3 overtime games in the series, the Bruins were able to finish off the Canadians who had force the game 7.

7. 2010 Eastern Conference Semis: Flyers vs Bruins
Anytime a team comes back from 3-0 in a series, it is a miraculous event. The Flyers came back from 3-0 against their rival Bruins on Simon Gagne’s third period goal giving the Flyers the 4-3 win. If not for their 2011 Cup, the Bruins may still be scarred form this epic collapse.

6. 2004 Western Conference Quarters: Flames vs Canucks
What a game! In game 6 the Canucks blew a 4-0 lead before Brendan Morrison scored in triple OT forcing a game 7. In game 7, the Canucks were Down 2-1 in the final minute and on a power play with their goalie pulled when they took a cross-checking penalty and then watched as Calgary's Jarome Iginla, who had scored twice, narrowly missed an empty net. Incredibly, Matt Cooke jammed home the tying goal off the rebound of a shot by Markus Naslund with only 5.7 seconds left. But the crowd went home unhappy when Calgary's Martin Gelinas scored 1:25 into OT.

5. 1996 Western Semis: Blues vs Red Wings
Many know this game for Steve Yzerman’s amazing game winner with a slap shot as he crossed into the zone. The game was a double overtime thriller as Detroit won 1-0. What many don’t know is that Waayne Gretzky lost the puck before Yzerman came down scoring that iconic goal.

4. 1994 Stanley Cup Finals: Rangers vs Canucks
After blowing a 3-1 series lead, fear swept the city of NY who felt their 54 year Cup curse was bound to continue. But as the Rangers and Canucks faced off in game 7, the game was a thriller, 3-2, after the Rangers jumped out to an early lead and were able to hold off the Canucks in the 3rd. Amazing moments from the series will always be remembered like Bure’s penalty shot and Lafayette’s shot that hit the post late in te 3rd.

3. 1950 Stanley Cup Finals: Rangers vs Red Wings
After a back and forth series, the two squads partook in the first Game 7 overtime game ever and by virtue, the first double OT game 7 as well. After the game was tied with 4 minutes left in the third at 4-4, Pete Babando was able to give the Wings the win with 8 minutes left in the second overtime. Believe it or not, this was the first Stanley Cup finals where the players picked up the cup and skated it around the ice.

2. 1942 Stanley Cup Finals: Maple Leafs vs Red Wings
Many call this series the greatest comeback in Sports History (others like the Red Sox-Yankees). Down 3-0 in the series and down in game the Leafs made a remarkable comeback. After being outscored 12-6 in the first three games, the Leafs outscored the Wings 19-7 in the next four to win the series. The Wings took an early lead in game 7 before the Leafs took over. The series also ended the then very long Cup drought for the Leafs.

1.       1994 Eastern Conference Finals: Devils vs Rangers
I know I am slightly biased because I am a huge Ranger fan but in the last 50 years, this was probably the biggest game in the Ranger’s history, perhaps ever. After Messier notched a hat trick to bring true his “guaranteed” game 7, the Rangers and Stephane Matteau won the game in 2OT. 

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