There is nothing more exciting in sports than the words “Game Seven” and when the Stanley Cup Playoffs are involved, it just gets crazier. Tonight we get the first two of at least three NHL playoff game sevens as the Buffalo Sabres attempt to upset the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks attempt to complete a historic comeback against the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks. To help get excited for the most exciting event in sports, here are seven classic game sevens that are recent enough that we all probably remember them.
1994 Eastern Conference Finals – Rangers 2, Devils 1 (2 OT)
No list of important sports moments would be complete without a New York entry. Luckily, the Rangers’ historic 1994 Cup run was an obvious choice. 1994 featured one of my first memories of the media beating history into the ground with all the talk of the Curse of 1940 – the last time the New York Rangers won Lord Stanley’s Cup. Stephane Matteau scored the game winner in double-overtime and kept the 1940 talk alive until the Rangers killed it with another seven game classic in the Stanley Cup Finals.
1996 Western Conference Semifinals – Red Wings 1, Blues 0 (2 OT)
This double-OT game-winner was probably the most memorable goal of Steve Yzerman Hall of Fame career. while Yzerman’s shot from the blue line propelled the Red Wings to the Western Conference Finals, they lost to the Colorado Avalanche, the eventual champions. The next season Yzerman and the Wings finally broke through and won the cup.
1997 Western Conference Quarterfinals – Oilers 4, Stars 3 (3OT)
This series went back and forth with two previous games going to overtime. One of the beautiful things about the NHL playoffs is that once a game goes to overtime, you have no clue when it will end. Who doesn’t love free hockey? Especially when six extra twenty minute periods is never out of the question. Curtis Joseph stopped 38 shots, but none were more important than this diving stop of Joe Nieuwendyk’s shot in triple-overtime. Just minutes after CuJo prevented what was basically an open-net opportunity, Todd Marchant got past the defense to end the game and the series.
2004 Western Conference Quarterfinals – Flames 3, Canucks 2 (OT)
After game 6 went into triple-overtime, the final game had no choice but to be a classic. After Jarome Iginla missed an empty-net goal and a chance to put the game away near the end of regulation, Matt Cooke incredibly tied the game with 5.7 seconds remaining.. Unfortunately for the hometown Calgary crowd, it was nothing more than a puck-tease as Martin Gelinas scored barely a minute into overtime.
2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals – Hurricanes 4, Devils 3
Oh, hockey. You cruel mistress. With the lead and less than two minutes remaining, you would think that Martin Brodeur would be more than enough to ensure victory for any team. Not so. As the clock ticked towards zero, the unthinkable happened. Jussi Jokinen tied the game with 1:20 to go and Eric Staal scored the game winner with just 32 seconds remaining. The state of New Jersey has yet to recover. Carolina would go on to play another seven game series before getting swept by the eventual champions…
2009 Stanley Cup Final – Penguins 2, Red Wings 1
Sidney Crosby versus the Detroit Red Wings never really materialized in Game 7 as Crosby went down in the second period and played less than 10 minutes total. Luckily for ratings, people had already tuned in to see the names on the marquee. Luckily for those that had tuned in, the loss of the game’s biggest star didn’t hurt the entertainment value of the finale. Maxime Talbot scored both Penguin goals and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped a late barrage as time ran out and Pittsburgh captured their first championship since the early 90′s. (How Pittsburgh got by on nothing but Super Bowl victories between hockey titles, I’ll never know.) Much to the delight of haters everywhere, despite hoisting the trophy, you can still technically call Crosby a fraud because of the injury.
2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals – Flyers 4, Bruins 3
How else could this list finish without the last team to come all the way back from a 0-3 hole? When Chicago seeks inspiration tonight they will have to search all the way back through the annals of hockey history to 2010 when Philadelphia became the fourth team in NHL history to return from the brink of elimination to win a series. To make things interesting, they also fell behind 0-3 in Game 7. The Flyers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final where they lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks. Both the Flyers and Blackhawks play game sevens tonight. See how this all ties together?