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Game Seven is a Lock

June 11, 2019, 9:05 AM ET [0 Comments]
Jay Greenberg
Blogger •NHL Hall of Fame writer • RSSArchiveCONTACT
If it is not on page one of the coaching manual, then certainly it comes soon after crying publicly about penalty disparities early enough in a series to plant a seed in the officials’ heads.

The book has it all–every single situation a coach might possibly face. Apparently, it can even tell you how to win a Stanley Cup with Devante Smith-Pelly taking a regular shift. Must reading is the newly minted (revised especially for 2019) guide on how to get your team to keep playing after a blatantly missed call just cost it a playoff game. Reviewed favorably by Craig Berube after the San Jose series. Tear smudged pages provided by Gerard Gallant. Comes with a forward by Leon Stickle and is available in paperback since only Mike Babcock can afford the leather-bound edition.

But any printing–first, second, 102nd, or so dog-eared by usage that it once was used by Don (Go and Don’t Dance) Perry to keep the fans from leaving early on another miserable night at The Fabulous Forum–will inform any coach to never, ever, ever overhype to your team the importance of scoring the first goal. What if you don’t get it? Spend the rest of the long night having Hal Gill attempt stretch passes? Evening up old scores against Brad Marchand? That could waste the entire prime of one’s career.

Now certainly downplaying the importance of the first goal may have been advice that Dave Hakstol and Scott Gordon took a little too literally in 2018-19, because to our recollection, the Flyers never were ahead 1-0 in any of their 82 games. We’re still checking, but its believed the last time they led after a period, it was on a goal by Pat Falloon.

But theoretically at least, down a goal you gotta keep your options open for coming back, even if your biggest gun might be Terry Yake.

So don’t despair, Blues or Bruins fans, should your boys fall behind in Game Seven on Wednesday night. In the first two games of this series, which happened five years ago–or at least it so it seems–the team trailing 1-0 came back to win. You can look it up, and, while you are at it, discover that in 1987 there actually was a Game Seven of a final in which the winning team rallied from behind.

Murray Craven scored for the Flyers on a two-man advantage at 1:41 of the first period at Edmonton but those never-say die Oilers, undermanned as they were with only Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Kent Nilsson and Reijo Ruotsalainen defied great odds to come back to win 3-1.

So it can be done. Even if it hasn’t been done in the seven final series Game Sevens since. Not even in the one Niclas Wallin played for the winning team.

Common sense suggests the teams in a final got there with goaltending and the knowledge of how to play with a lead. So it is not so surprising that brick walls topped with barbed wire as prickly as Zdeno Chara and greasier than Brad Marchand when he goes before Player Safety can get thrown up as early as 1-0.

You have watched the playoffs. We don’t think we are catching you up here on how hard it is to catch up. Barring a third-period major that nobody saw and penalty killing so ghastly that Petr Nedved had to be doing it, we mean.

Here’s the plan: Fluke in a double deflection in the first period or early in the second, line up four guys along the blueline and suddenly the ultimate game everybody played in their driveway as a kid becomes the dullest thing since a Jacques Martin quote.

When the odd scoring chance presents itself following a Marchand gratuitous leg whip or an Oskar Sundqvist hit to the head, you had better take advantage. Opportunities become even shorter than Charlie Jacobs’ gratitude to Claude Julien. It only takes that first goal to take the air out of a building or pump it up to explosion levels, in which case 1-0 instantly starts to feel like 4-0 to the club trailing. Maybe it won’t be quite as over as it appears to be for David Backes in Boston. But close.

In this series–when the home team has won only twice in six games, the deflation has been acute, even before the Cup was in the building and 40,000 people were outside ready to let loose after 40 years of seething that their team let Blake Dunlop go.

In order to keep focus, coaches like to shorten 82 games with rewards for team performance in shorter segments. The same psychology works in miniature within a huge game. Surviving a hard five-or-10 minute push by a home team going for the kill seems a lot easier than, say, fulfilling a lifetime dream of winning a Cup that very night on home ice.

So now that the expectations are back on series favorite Boston, Phil Pritchard could take the Cup out of its case and put it in Alex Pietrangelo’s hands right now, except for the fact that sleeping giants of the Bruins’ first line-Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Marchand-have awakened at last, Chara looked pretty good in Game six, broken jaw notwithstanding, and Brandon Carlo seemed like a reasonable facsimile besides. So the Bruins have a 50-50 shot at getting the first goal, which will give them a 99.99 per cent chance of holding a parade because that’s just the way Game Sevens work.

Of course, the Blues could stay out of the penalty box and reduce the Bruins opportunities to about 30 per cent because five-on-five, so far Boston is getting killed. With one deflection through one screen being all that is needed, St. Louis’s power play, one-for-18 in the series, always could wake up in the nick of time. It certainly is overdue, like the franchise.

You may have noticed a little waffling in the previous two paragraphs. The reason for that is that nobody really knows what is going to happen, especially since Game Seven begins in virtual sudden death. At 1-0, it is over, like it was 14 minutes in for Vancouver in 2011 against four of these same Bruins; for Detroit in 2009, when Pittsburgh’s Max Talbot scored twice—and how do you like those odds?—and all that Red Wing firepower was rendered useless by Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Hurricanes jumped up 2-0 on the Oilers in 2004, and the Lightning never fell behind to the Flames in 2004 in a Game Seven that at least went to the final buzzer. The Mighty Ducks should have stayed home against the Devils in 2003. When Mike Rupp scores two minutes in, the jig is up.

A highly anticipated Devils-Avalanche final in 2001–you had a defending champion, the two goalies of a generation and really the two best teams in that era–greatly disappointed with only one lead change in a third period over seven games; Colorado in control almost throughout a 3-1 Game Seven victory. The 1994 Rangers, once up 3-1, gave New York a heart attack when the Canucks tied the series, but Brian Leetch provided a lead in Game Seven and throughout it was the better team, even if Vancouver’s Nathan Lafayette hit a post, if only for 54 years of anxiety’s sake, late in the third period of a 3-2 heart-stopper.

At least that game went to the wire. Once the Oilers took the lead on Jari Kurri’s goal in the second period, thereafter the Flyers never had the puck in 1987, even if Anderson didn’t put the series away until there were fewer than three minutes to be played.

That was the first seven game final in 16 years, so the last time a team legitimately came from behind to win one was in 1971, when Tony Esposito, his Blackhawks up 2-0, whiffed on a shot from the blueline by Jacques Lemaire and two goals by Henri Richard brought the Canadiens back to another title.

That was 48 years ago. You would think that it would seem like 48 years nursing a small lead shift-by-shift to a Stanley Cup, but the game has become so structured, it’s quite the opposite. Don’t tune in late Wednesday night or you are going to miss the whole game.
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