It is one of the most exciting events in all of sports -- Game 7 during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Hockey fans wait months to see the spectacle of a winner advances, loser goes home contest, and and after two thrilling games Tuesday night, the first round fo the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs will wrap up with two more on Wednesday.
After a thrilling overtime win in Game 6 to bring the series back to Philadelphia Sunday afternoon, the Flyers managed to overpower Buffalo in a dominating 5-1 victory Tuesday night, ensuring that the defending Eastern Conference champions would advance to the second round. Their Stanley Cup Final counterparts were not so lucky, however. Despite a brilliant display by rookie goalie Corey Crawford, and an unbelievable shorthanded goal by Jonathan Toews in the final minutes of the third period, which forced overtime, the Hawks run at a repeat was abruptly cut short on a rising shot by Vancouver's Alex Burrows at 5:22 of the first extra period, ending one of the most dramatic first-round playoff games in recent memory.
"It felt almost like it was a dream," Burrows said of his game-winner. "But guys jumped on me and I couldn't breathe, so I knew it was right."
Chicago dropped the first three games of the series, but the Blackhawks had won three in a row and nearly became the fourth team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 deficit to claim a series -- something Philadelphia managed to do against Boston en route to the 2010 Cup Final.
The drama of Tuesday night will be tough for Wednesday to match, but Montreal and Boston will give it a try when they drop the puck Wednesday night at TD Garden (7 ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS). Of course there would have been no need for a Game 7 were it not for the Canadiens' 2-1 victory over the Bruins Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, a game which almost immediately required both teams to hit the road to Boston for a start time exactly 24 hours later south of the border. This Game 7 holds a unique place in NHL history, as it will be only the ninth Game 7 played the day after Game 6, and the first since Philadelphia and Washington turned the trick three years ago.
Unfortunately, if you're looking for some clue as to which team will have the edge don't bother. Home teams are an even 4-4 in Game 7s played on the end of a back-to-back, although road teams have won the last three. Don't assume it's the Habs' time to shine, however. Only one team has won Games 6 and 7 on a back-to-back since the expansion era, though it is worth noting that that team, the 2003 Minnesota Wild, did it in consecutive series.
Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay won't have quite the same exhaustion nagging them. The Penguins and Lightning had a day off between Monday's Game 6 and Wednesday's Game 7 (8 ET, VERSUS (joined in progress), NHL-Network US, TSN). Of course, that shouldn't be much reassurance to the Pens, who have now missed two straight chances to eliminate the Bolts have holding a 3-1 series lead. As well, the perfect 5-0 record of Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson in elmination games, and Pittsburgh's less-than-stellar 2-5 record in home Game 7s -- including last year's Game 7 loss to Montreal in the Conference Semifinals -- are less than reassuring.
The four Game 7s in this year's first round are the most since 1995, and already equal the number of Game 7s in the entirety of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The record for most Game 7s in the first round is six, which happened in 1992, coincidentally the last time a Stanley Cup winner went the distance in the first round. While the eighth-seeded Canadiens knocked off the Capitals and Penguins on the road last season, the Flyers' comeback was the one hockey fans will remember for a long time.
Not only did Philadelphia erase a 3-0 lead in the series, the Flyers also had to comeback from a 3-0 deficit once Game 7 started.
"I'm proud of the way they played," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said after the win. "I'm proud of the way they represented the organization. I'm proud of the way they represented themselves."
Scoring a game-winning goal in Game 7 can become the defining moment in a player's career. Stephane Matteau scored 144 regular-season goals in his NHL career, but he will always be remembered for the one he scored against the New Jersey Devils in 1994 to put the New York Rangers into the Stanley Cup Final.
It can also be a confirmation of greatness. Steve Yzerman accomplished much during his Hall of Fame career, and his shot from just inside the blue line against the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the 1996 Western Conference Semifinals could very well be his greatest of moments.
There are many iconic images that come from Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- Washington goaltender Bob Mason slumping over after allowing a goal to Pat Lafontaine of the New York Islanders in the fourth overtime of the game now known as "the Easter Epic" and Steve Smith's reaction after putting the puck in his own net for the Edmonton Oilers in 1986 against the Calgary Flames are two that come to mind.
Winning a Game 7 takes plenty of determination and luck. Moments after a potential tying goal went harmlessly off the crossbar, it was Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's dive to his right to stop Nicklas Lidstrom's buzzer-beating shot that become the iconic moment from Game 7 of the 2009 Final.
"It was so hard watching the clock tick down for that whole third period," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said shortly after the game. "But everything it took to win, we did it, you know. Blocking shots. Great goaltending. Different guys stepping up. I mean, we did exactly everything it takes to win. We're really happy with the result. We've been through a lot."
Someone will score a game-winning goal or make a game-saving play Wednesday night, and it is possible his career will be forever altered. That is the power and the allure of Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and why tonight, like Tuesday, could offer several iconic moments.