“You look at any team that’s won, and it starts with a disappointment. We’ll be back.” — Connor McDavid, in 2017
EDMONTON — The irony of that quote is, five years later, the Edmonton Oilers have not yet found their way out of the disappointment business. But at the same time, they ARE back.
Back to another Game 7, like that 2-1, Game 7 second-round loss in Anaheim that left a 20-year-old McDavid so bullish on his team’s immediate future, as impossibly rosy as it must have seemed that day.
“Come next season,” McDavid promised that night, “we’ll find ourselves in a similar spot. And we’ll be able to look back on this, feel that disappointment, and know … how much that sucked.”
Well, it’s five years later, but here we are. Better late than never, it may be the only time McDavid ever did anything slow on a hockey rink.
Sometimes life gives us a special moment right out of the blue. Other times, like a Game 7 at home on a Saturday night in May, you see the moment coming – you’re just not sure what kind of moment it will be. What emotion the lasting memory will evoke, elation or dread?
Will it cut like a knife to the heart, or a blood bond between brothers? Either way, it is never to be forgotten.
After losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in 2006, Shawn Horcoff gave us one of our favourite quotes in a long career of thought collecting.
“We left it all out there,” Horcoff said after that game. “It was an honour.”
After a Game 7 in Dallas in 1997, overtime hero Todd Marchant – who days before we had written could somehow not put the puck in the ocean, even if he were shooting off the end of a pier – was waiting for our arrival in the post-game dressing room at old Reunion Arena.
“I’m right over here, Spec,” Marchant said, loud enough for all to hear. “At the end of the pier.”
We may have to Google most of the scores and scenarios from all those playoff series’ our favourite teams have given us over the years. But the Game 7s we remember, don’t we?
This one, on the back end a Hockey Night in Canada double-header of two Canadian teams in exactly the same spot, will be (as the kids say) an instant classic. A sudsy Saturday night, 8:20 p.m. CT start at Rogers, with spring in the air and the patios packed from 2 p.m. on, will provide an atmosphere inside Rogers Place that no game presentation department or scoreboard DJ can replicate.
The electricity in that building on Saturday could power a Suncor plant for a week, while the draught lines will pump enthusiasm through Rogers Place like blood through King Kong’s veins. It is, as Horcoff said, an honour to have been around a handful of such games over the years, a privilege to have spoken with the warriors within before and after.
“You want it so bad,” 20-year vet Rod Brind’Amour said back in ’06, when the Carolina Hurricanes had become his last shot at a ring. “Not just for yourself, but for the guy sitting beside you. For your dad. Your kids. There are so many people you’re thinking about who are pulling for you. It’s exhausting.”
That was, of course, a Stanley Cup Final. But if you don’t win the Game 7s along the journey, you’ll never reach the destination of which Brind’Amour spoke.
Like the night in 2011, when Vancouver finally slayed the dragon that was the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime of Game 7, a Round 1 series. Or the St. Louis Blues in 2016, when Troy Brouwer touched the puck four times before shovelling home the game-winner to oust the hated Chicago Blackhawks in a quarter-final.
“If I didn’t put that one in, I might have quit hockey,” Brouwer said that night.
“It was like mini-golf,” added his coach, Ken Hitchcock.
In ’06, after Edmonton had cleaned out Carolina in Game 6 at Rexall Place, it was almost impossible to envision a loss in Game 7. Alas, the Oilers lost 2-1.
In Vancouver in 2011, with the Canucks at home and desperate to satiate a 41-year thirst for franchise success, we’d have bet the family car on the Canucks beating Boston. That night, the Bruins never gave Henrik and Daniel Sedin a sniff.
Today, just because the Oilers conjured up the performance of their season on Thursday in L.A., there are no guarantees, no carry-overs, once you get to hockey’s horse track – a Game 7.
I’ll never forget Marchant busting down the right side around a stumbling Grant Ledyard, or that save Curtis Joseph made on Joe Nieuwendyk just moments before. Steve Smith’s Game 7 grief is etched in our minds, of course, but I can also picture Billy Guerin settling that puck down in ’98 at the old McNichols Arena, before he blew it through Patrick Roy’s legs to secure Round 1 in a Game 7, the second goal in a 4-0 road win for Edmonton over mighty Colorado.
The old story teller Hitchcock has this Game 7 memory burned into his mind, from 1999.
“There’s 13 seconds left, Ray Bourque’s got the puck at the point and he’s got a wrist shot going from the right side, which we all know usually goes in,” he said. “It’s going in the net, and it hits the knob of (Eddie Belfour’s) stick and goes out of play. We could see it perfect from the bench, it’s a goal, and it would have tied the game … and it ends up putting us to the Stanley Cup finals.
“So, I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen how close it is.”
There is no in-between in a Game 7. And yes, emotion and the crowd make a difference.
A big difference.
“It’s what dreams are made of,” goalie Mike Smith said on Friday. Playing a Game 7 back home in Edmonton? “Guys are pretty excited.”
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