No superlatives are needed when a playoff series goes the distance and everything is on the line. The NHL postseason is suspenseful, but Wednesday night things will be magnified for the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.
“It’s definitely intense emotions,” Avalanche right wing Maxime Talbot said. “You have to hit another gear.”
Talbot should know. This is the fifth Game 7 in his career, and he has experienced both ends of emotions. He has lost twice and won twice, but none was bigger than his performance in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals. Talbot scored both goals in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 win over the Red Wings in Detroit, giving the Penguins their first Stanley Cup in 17 years.
“It was never about what I did,” Talbot said. “I was lucky enough to perform, but what I remember is I was having fun, I was focused and I wanted to make a difference.”
The other Game 7 win for Talbot also came in 2009, two rounds earlier at the expense of 21-year-old Washington netminder Semyon Varlamov. Talbot scored the game-winner as the Penguins beat the Capitals 6-2 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Varlamov has had success, too. The series before losing to Pittsburgh he made 14 saves in a 2-1 Game 7 win over the New York Rangers.
Forward Alex Tanguay is a veteran of these, having played in eight, seven with Colorado. Defenseman Cory Sarich has played in three, including Game 7 of the 2004 Cup finals with Tampa Bay, and center John Mitchell is 2-0 in Game 7s.
Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere played in Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final, falling to New Jersey. He was outstanding throughout those playoffs and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, a rare accomplishment for a player from a losing team.
Considering Talbot and Varlamov are the only players who will likely be on the ice tonight – Tanguay, Sarich and Mitchell are injured and Giguere is Varlamov’s backup – the young Avalanche players are going to be looking toward the Game 7 veterans for some guidance.
“It’s nice talking to guys like Max who’ve been there, obviously with J.S. and Tangs,” rookie Nathan MacKinnon said. “The biggest message they told me was it’s the same game, but the stakes are higher. It’s important to enjoy it, embrace it and have some fun with it and relax out there.”
The Avalanche has a rich history of Game 7s, having played in nine since moving to Denver in 1995. Colorado lost its first three – two to Dallas in 1999 and 2000 – before beating Los Angeles and New Jersey on the way to the 2001 Stanley Cup title
In 2002 the Avalanche played in three straight, finally falling to Detroit in the Western Conference Finals.
The last Game 7 in team history, fittingly, was against Minnesota in the first round of the 2003 playoffs. The Wild won in overtime, 3-2, in what turned out to be goaltender Patrick Roy’s last game, but he’s not thinking of payback this time.
“What would revenge do for me?” he asked. “I had my runs.”
Eleven years later he is leading the team as the coach, and he enjoys what a Game 7 brings.
“These guys are going to learn to play a Game 7. They’re excited about it and they should be,” Roy said. “We wanted to have that home-ice advantage, and we surprised the world of hockey by finishing first in our division. Today we’re receiving the benefit of it. We’re playing Game 7 in our building.”
He wouldn’t want it any other way.
When Colorado center Joey Hishon made his NHL debut in Game 4 that was considered a big step. Now the rookie gets to see the intensity amped up in Game 7. He will center the third line with Jamie McGinn and Talbot against the Wild on Wednesday night.
He was scratched in Game 6 in favor of center Matt Duchene, but Roy said he has liked what he saw from him in two games.
“I was close to playing him last game,” Roy said. “I like his offensive skills. He brings more offense to our team. I like the way he played the last two games.”
– MacKinnon and Minnesota left winger Zach Parise are tied for the NHL lead in playoff points with 10 apiece, and Avalanche center Paul Stastny is third with nine points. MacKinnon’s eight assists and Stastny’s four goals are also tied for the league lead heading into Wednesday’s action.
– The Colorado franchise is 6-6 all-time in Game 7 and has a 4-5 mark since relocating to Denver in 1995. The Avs' last Game 7 victory was in the 2002 Western Conference Semifinals against San Jose, a 1-0 win.
– Paul Stastny scored the Avalanche's second short-handed goal of the playoffs last game, tying the franchise record for the most in one playoff year. This is the eighth time Colorado/Quebec has scored twice while shorthanded in a single postseason, most recently in 2006.
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