SAN JOSE, Calif.--It's another elimination game for the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it's also a "do-or-die" contest for the San Jose Sharks.
Colorado and San Jose both aim to extend their seasons this evening as they play Game 7 of their second-round series at SAP Center. The winner will advance to the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues, who won their own Game 7 in double overtime against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night.
"Feels good. I think everybody's in a good mood, we're excited to play," said Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog following the team's morning skate. "I think, obviously it's a Game 7, we all know that, but we've played some must-wins in the past and the last few weeks in the regular season we had some must-wins.
"For us, we're looking at this for what it is, and we're not going to blow it out of proportion. We're not going to pretend it's not a Game 7 either because that's not possible. We're just going to go out and play like the season is on the line."
The Avs have faced these type of games before and have excelled in them. They went on an 8-0-2 run to secure their second-straight playoff berth, jumping three teams and erasing a six-point deficit in the final weeks of the regular season. A regulation loss or two in any of those contests likely would have ended Colorado's season in early April.
On Monday in Game 6 at Pepsi Center, the Avalanche had to win to extend its postseason run and the team pulled out a 4-3 overtime victory on the heels of J.T. Compher's three points (two goals, one assist) and Landeskog's game-winner.
"Our backs were against the wall last game, it's the same situation tonight," said Matt Nieto. "We've been through it before, and everyone in here is loose and excited to go."
Video: Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog before Game 7
Forward Colin Wilson says there is a calm confidence for the Avs' next biggest game of the year.
"It's a bit of a relaxed excitement," Wilson said. "You don't want to go out there and blow all your energy too early, but there's going to be ups and downs throughout the game. Stay even-keel and just enjoy it. It's so much fun to play in these games."
Head coach Jared Bednar senses the excitement with his players and likes their attitude going into this evening's decisive contest.
"That is exactly what we want them to feel," Bednar said. "The pressure comes from worrying about the end result and being excited about it means they're process oriented. They're looking at it as an opportunity for us to go and play a real good hockey game against a real good team in a Game 7 and go have some fun. That is what we want them to do.
"There will be some nerves, certainly, but we don't want them to be anxious or worried about the result of the hockey game. We want to play our best hockey, similar to the message we had last game."
Video: Jared Bednar before Game 7 against the Sharks
The Avalanche is 60 (or more) minutes away from reaching its first conference final since 2002. That year saw Colorado defeat San Jose in seven games in the second round to advance to a Western final against the rival Detroit Red Wings.
The Avs look for history to repeat itself as they aren't ready for their season to end in the second week of May.
"First few years, I never made the playoffs, I didn't know what I was missing," Landeskog said. "Now you get a taste of it and how different the hockey is and how much better the hockey is, and now everything's on the line every single shift and every play matters. This is what you play for. This is what you dream of doing, and no better way of doing it than going out here and doing your job in Game 7."
The Avalanche will keep with the same lineup it used in Game 6, once again using a non-traditional, 11-forward, seven-defensemen alignment. Patrik Nemeth will remain the extra defender used.
"There are aspects of it that I really like for us up front. It gets all of our forwards into the game, and that is what we want," Bednar said. "So they know they're going out, there is no room to hide, you can't have an off night. Usually we're more engaged when we play 11 forwards up front as a whole.
"It's a little bit tougher on the backend for those guys, but I think they understand the situation. It worked, we got a real good player in Nemeth coming in, so we're going to go with the same lineup."
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer will get start, like he has in all previous 11 outings of the postseason.
GAME 7 TRENDS
The team that scores first is 130-46 (.738) in the 176 all-time Game 7s, including a 2-2 mark in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Home teams own a 103-73 (.585) advantage, including a 3-1 mark this postseason.
There have been 44 overtime Game 7s in Stanley Cup Playoffs history (25 percent), including a record-setting three of four in 2019. Home teams are 23-21, including 2-1 this postseason.
There have been 89 all-time Game 7s that have been decided by a one-goal margin (50.5 percent), including three of four so far in 2019.
The Avalanche owns an all-time record of 6-7 in its 13 previous Game 7s in franchise history. The team has a 4-6 mark since moving to Denver for the 1995-96 season.
The Sharks are 7-4 in their 11 all-time Game 7s and is a 4-1 on home ice in those scenarios.
Colorado has nine players with NHL Game 7 experience: Derick Brassard (six), Semyon Varlamov (four), Ian Cole (three), Colin Wilson (two), Erik Johnson (one), Gabriel Landeskog (one), Nathan MacKinnon (one), Matt Nieto (one) and Carl Soderberg (one).
Philipp Grubauer ranks fifth among all netminders this postseason in both goals-against average (2.23) and save percentage (.928).
The Avalanche and Sharks are meeting in a Game 7 for the second time in five head-to-head playoff meetings. The last matchup was in the Western Conference Semifinals on May 15, 2002, a 1-0 win for Colorado.
The Avs are looking to reach the conference finals for the first time since 2002 and the seventh time since moving to Denver in 1995.
Colorado and San Jose are playing a postseason series for the fifth time, having previously done so in 1999 (CQF), 2002 (CSF), 2004 (CSF) & 2010 (CQF). Colorado is 2-2 in those four series. The only other opponent that has faced the Avalanche more often in the playoffs is the Detroit Red Wings, who have battled the Avs six times.
3 - Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole is 3-0 in Game 7s in his NHL career.
4 - This is the fourth time in Avalanche history (since 1995-96) that the team has forced a Game 7 when trailing 3-2 in the series.
6 - Cale Makar leads all rookie defenseman and ranks third among all first-year players in scoring in the postseason with six points (one goal, five assists). Makar has matched the franchise record for points in the playoffs by a rookie blueliner set by Quebec's Jeff Brown in 1987.
7 - Colorado has seven wins this postseason (7-4), the club's most in a playoff year since 2002 (11). The club is now 15-5-2 (.727) in its last 22 contests dating back to March 17.
Mikko Rantanen on his attitude for the game: "I don't think it's too different [of a] game. It's Game 7--winner goes to the next round, loser goes home--but, I think the game is still the same. It's playoff hockey and it's just the seventh game of the series. It's no different than 3 or 4. It's still the same excitement."\
Colin Wilson on the significance of reaching the Western Conference Final: "It means a lot. I think this team has come a long way and the talent is showing up and being displayed on a bigger stage. It would mean a lot to the team and the organization to have a chance to win the cup."
Gabriel Landeskog on the team's confidence: "It's a Game 7 and anything can happen, we've said that all along. We know that we've won in this building before in this series, and we'd like to do it again. It's as simple as that. Win a hockey game and do whatever it takes to do that. We're comfortable in this position and still see ourselves as the underdogs and taking the pressure off of ourselves. That's how we're going to approach it."
Matt Nieto on the Avs having experience facing elimination: "I think this group has gained some experience with situations like this and knowing what it takes in order to come out victorious. Last game I thought we played a pretty complete game and we're going to have to follow that up again tonight with an even better one."
Head Coach Jared Bendar on if his first NHL Game 7 matters to him: "Not for me. It's an elimination game. It's exactly the same as the last game we just played. I think the team has to play with a high intensity, a high urgency level. We saw in Game 5, they had a little more desperation than our team did. I thought we pushed our level of desperation and urgency up in Game 6, we were able to get the win.