Often, the conventional wisdom is that the odd numbered games of series are the most important, and in general, it does hold true that Games 1, 3, 5, and 7 hold the greatest opportunity to seize control or change momentum of a series. But, in many cases, it is Game 2 that is the most pivotal.
In 1979, the New York Rangers took a 4-1 victory from the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. It appeared that the Rangers were going to end Montreal’s reign of three straight Stanley Cup championships, and that all odds were in their favor to cruise to victory. But, a funny thing happened on the way to the start of Game 2 that changed everything.
Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman had pulled his starting goaltender, Ken Dryden, in favor of Bunny Larocque in Game 1 when the contest needed a momentum shift. Larocque was slated to start in Game 2 as well.
But like Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom this past week, Larocque was injured in warm-ups, and so Bowman’s original plan to go with him had to yield back to the original plan of going with Dryden. The result? Montreal won 6-2, then 4-1, then 4-3 in OT, then 4-1. The Canadiens won their fourth straight Stanley Cup, and the Rangers visions of sugar plums were dashed from their heads.
Last season, the Sharks also won Game 1 in St. Louis. Down 1-0 in Game 2, they lost a faceoff in the offensive zone, about 190 feet away from their net. The Blues were able to work the puck up the ice and take advantage of key slips in the attention to detail needed for victory. T.J. Oshie put forth a brilliant effort on the right wing boards, and David Backes found the puck on his stick for a huge goal to give the Blues a 2-0 lead.
Coach Ken Hitchcock and the Blues had their game plan rewarded at a critical tipping point of the series. They won that Game Two, 3-0, and took the series with wins of 4-3, 2-1, and 3-1.
The scores were tight, but the tipping point was also in Game Two, not necessarily because of the fact that St. Louis won the game, but because of what they proved to themselves about the mettle of their team in that particular playoff series.
This year, against Vancouver, the Sharks did a terrific job in Game One. They need to remain focused on each and every important detail of winning, so that Game Two can be a pivotal strike in their favor. No detail is too small to be focused on in this one.
Of course, the second win in a series is more difficult than the first. Vancouver is going to be ready. They’re talented and well-prepared.
It’s going to be a great game. See you on the radio!