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Panthers GM Keenan Knows Game 7s Too Well

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers

Brian Biggane/Palm Beach Post

Tonight will mark the third Game 7 in the past three Stanley Cup Finals, but it's still a rarity. It will be only the 14th Game 7 in a Final since the NHL went to the best-of-seven format in 1938.

Between 1972 to 2000, there were only two such games. Panthers General Manager Mike Keenan coached in both of them.

Keenan, who coached in four Stanley Cup Finals with Philadelphia, Chicago and the New York Rangers, came up a 3-1 loser with the Flyers against Edmonton in Game 7 in 1987, and a 3-2 winner with New York against Vancouver in 1994.

"What it showed me was how incredibly difficult it is to win a Stanley Cup," Keenan said Sunday as he looked ahead to tonight's Carolina-Edmonton showdown at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.

"Going into a game like that, it's very exciting," he added. "The final game of an interesting journey."

Philadelphia had lost to Edmonton in five games in the 1985 Final, then lost goaltender Pelle Lindbergh in a fatal car crash that off-season. After missing the playoffs in 1986, they made it back against the same Oilers in 1987 with rookie Ron Hextall in net.

"We lost a number of players to injury. Tim Kerr, our leading scorer, was out, and Dave Poulin was playing with broken ribs, which shows it's a series of attrition. Edmonton had some guys out too, but all the Oilers' key guys were fine, and almost all of them - (Wayne) Gretzky, (Mark) Messier, (Glenn) Anderson, (Grant) Fuhr - were in their prime."

Keenan said he still recalls the feeling he had when he got on the plane back home after the 3-1 loss.

"It was just the feeling that these players had been cheated by not having the opportunity to play as a healthy group.".

Seven years later, Keenan would get another shot, this time with the Rangers. Like Carolina this year, New York would jump to a 3-1 lead and had the opportunity to close out the series at home in Game 5. Was Keenan as confident of a victory as the Hurricanes seemed to be last week?

"I wasn't, but our fans certainly were," he said. "What I remember is I was really nervous they were selling (championship) T-shirts on the street, just assuming we would win. They'd done the same thing years before in Edmonton, and I'd bought one and brought it into the locker room to use as motivation for our guys."

Anyone who has seen highlights of that 3-2 Rangers win will recall the joyful celebration at the final horn.

The victory made Keenan a celebrity in New York; even 12 years later, he still gets a hero's welcome on the streets whenever he returns.

"Nobody forgets championship teams, no matter what city you win them in," he said. "New York is certainly the ultimate in terms of exposure, but any city is that way. I won a (AHL) championship in Rochester and it's still that way for me there, too.

"Maybe I've got something special going in New York state, I don't know."

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