It’s do or die. Sink or swim. Win, and move on. Lose, and it’s all over.
There really is nothing quite like Game Seven of a Stanley Cup playoff series, and tonight, San Jose Sharks hockey skates into the amazing atmosphere and is eager to get things going against the Los Angeles Kings. There is tremendous history, hope, and heartbreak all rolled up into one night of electric shock therapy for everyone’s nervous system.
It is quite fitting that these two closely matched rivals will play this game, under these circumstances. This season, the Sharks and the Kings were two of the best home teams, and the home team has won every game of the series so far. There is absolutely no room to operate on the ice because of outstanding defensive coverage, and the goaltending from Antti Niemi and Jonathan Quick has been excellent.
The last time that the Sharks have been in a Game Seven, they had the home ice against the Detroit Red Wings. Winning the game on a goal by Patrick Marleau, San Jose advanced to the 2011 Western Conference Final against the Vancouver Canucks. It was the conclusion of perhaps the best playoff series of that particular year, including the Vancouver-Boston Final.
It’s been eleven years since the Sharks have played a Game Seven on the road. In 2002, they traveled to Denver to face off against the Avalanche, and had a golden opportunity to take the lead when Teemu Selanne began to wrap the puck around to beat Patrick Roy. Teemu’s skate got caught in a rut on the ice. He missed. Peter Forsberg scored the only goal.
Colorado won the game, 1-0, and perhaps the best series of that particular playoff season came to an end.
It’s the second Game Seven in an all-California Stanley Cup playoff series. On April 13, 1969, Game Seven was played at the Oakland Coliseum Arena between the Kings and the Oakland Seals. L.A. won that game, 5-3, and completed a series in which they won both Game Six at home and Game Seven on the road.
Tonight, the Sharks look to be the team that does the same thing. To date, road teams have captured two of the three Game Sevens played this post-season. Detroit won at Anaheim, and the Rangers won in Washington. On the other side of the coin, Boston took Game Seven at home against Toronto in overtime.
Oh, yes, there has been overtime in Sharks Game Seven history, too. On May 19, 1995, San Jose traveled to Calgary and on a goal by Ray Whitney at 21:54, advanced to the Western Conference Semi-Final with a 5-4 win against the Flames. In that series, the Sharks also captured both Game Six and Game Seven.
The Kings have not played in a Game Seven since 2002, when they lost, 4-0, on the road in Colorado. They have not hosted a Game Seven since 1989, when they defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 6-3, in a first-round series that was played before the Sharks were born.
L.A. is 3-4 lifetime in Game Seven, including a 2-1 home record. Their most recent Game Seven win was on May 29, 1993, when they won 5-4 at Toronto in a game that guaranteed their advancement to the Stanley Cup Final.
It is impossible to predict anything other than a terrific, closely contested hockey game that will conclude a classic series that has been perhaps the best of all that have been played to date this spring. At the end, as the players shake hands at center ice, we will all know whether there will be a new Stanley Cup champion this year, or whether the Cup champs will earn another opportunity to defend their crown.
May the best team win. It is all about the handshake at the end of the night, and both teams will give it their all to be on the right side of that handshake. It is going to be awesome. It’s what players dream to do, and what hockey is all about.
See you on the radio.