I’ve had the privilege of broadcasting several Game 7s in my career. I’ve also been fortunate to call every Stanley Cup Final for NHL International since 1997. This will be the fifth Game 7 I’ve covered in the Final: 2001 New Jersey at Colorado, 2003 Anaheim at New Jersey, 2004 Calgary at Tampa Bay, 2006 Edmonton at Carolina and 2009 Pittsburgh at Detroit. Each series was unique and provided all the drama that goes into a seven-game series. As the voice of the Detroit Red Wings from 1985-1996, I called a total of six Game 7s including five at Joe Louis Arena. I have memories from each of those games but three of them really stand out:
1993: Toronto 4, Detroit 3 (OT)
The 1992-93 season was the last time the NHL had divisions with names like Norris and Smythe. The playoff format that year started within the divisions so Detroit faced Norris Division rival Toronto in the first round. Both teams had solid regular seasons with Detroit earning 103 points while the Leafs had 99. This series was a great example of why it’s so hard to predict what’s going to happen from game to game in the playoffs. The Wings won the first two games at home by scores of 6-3 and 6-2. The Leafs then reeled off three straight one-goal victories including an overtime thriller in Game 5. Detroit went into Maple Leaf Gardens and won Game 6 by a 7-3 score to set up Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena. Everyone thought the Wings would prevail based on their dominant Game 6 performance, but it was Nikolai Borschevsky’s goal early in the overtime of Game 7 that stunned the crowd at Joe Louis Arena and the rest of the hockey world.
1994: San Jose 3, Detroit 2
If “stunned” was the right way to describe the feeling inside Joe Louis Arena, it paled in comparison to what the fans felt when the horn sounded to end Game 7 of the Red Wings-Sharks first-round series in 1994. The playoff format that year was changed to make it more “fair” for the teams that had regular-season success. The NHL went with two divisions in each conference and the playoff matchups were determined by seeding in each conference. Detroit was the only Western Conference team to reach 100 points and earned the top seed. The upstart San Jose Sharks, just three seasons into their existence, were the eighth seed with 82 points (a sub-.500 record in the 84-game regular season). This series, like the series against Toronto the year before, had some wild swings including a lopsided 7-1 Detroit victory in Game 6. But the gritty Sharks stayed close throughout Game 7 and I could sense the tension building inside Joe Louis Arena with memories of the loss against Toronto the year before. San Jose’s Jamie Baker took advantage of a miscue by Chris Osgood and scored what proved to be the game-winner in a 3-2 Sharks victory.
1996: Detroit 1, St.Louis 0 (2 OT)
As I stepped into the booth at Joe Louis Arena, I had no idea that this would be my final game as the voice of the Red Wings (I was hired by ESPN later that summer), but what a way to go out! In a series that featured Steve Yzerman and the “Russian 5” against Wayne Gretzky, this was a classic. Once again, Detroit jumped to a 2-0 series lead including an 8-3 win in Game 2 but it didn’t matter to the Mike Keenan-coached Blues as they reeled off three one-goal victories. Detroit won Game 6 in St. Louis by a 4-2 score. Game 7 at “the Joe” was scoreless through regulation and one overtime. Early in the second overtime, Yzerman ripped a blue-line shot over the shoulder of Blues goalie Jon Casey to give Detroit the thrilling win.
So, based on the first six games of this Red Wings-Penguins series, what’s going to happen at Joe Louis Arena on Friday night? My experience tells me it’s nearly impossible to predict, but here is one stat to focus on:
5-on-5 play: This is a stat that you’ve heard Panger and I discuss often on our Coyotes telecasts. A team that’s in the plus column in terms of goals-for and goals-against while playing 5-on-5 is going to have success. The Red Wings are the best 5-on-5 team in the playoffs … by far. In 22 playoff games, the Red Wings have scored 46 goals and given up just 25 while playing 5-on-5. By contrast, Pittsburgh has scored 48 goals and yielded 45. In this series, Detroit has had the advantage in 5-on-5 scoring, with a 12-7 margin including an 8-1 edge in the previous three games at Joe Louis Arena. There have not been very many penalties called in this series. If Game 7 follows that trend and is played mostly 5-on-5, it’s advantage Detroit. Having said that, Pittsburgh won Game 6 by a score of 2-1 with all three goals scored 5-on-5.
So, sit back and enjoy the final game of the 2009 playoffs. It’s the Stanley Cup Final and it’s Game 7. What could be better?