There’s something entrancing about the seventh game of a series in the NHL playoffs. We’re lured by the thought of two teams grinding away since training camp way back in September, beating each other up for six games, and then having just 60 minutes to determine a winner.
The drama is obvious, the spectacle is always present, and the anticipation can be painful. It’s just too bad that they disappoint us far too often.
In these early days of the 2011 playoffs, we already have three Game 7′s scheduled. The puck drops tonight in two of them, with Vancouver attempting to pick up whatever pieces remain from their scrambled psyche and stave off a colossal first round embarrassment against the Blackhawks. Vancouver’s last Game 7 came in 2007, and it ended with a 4-1 win over the Stars in which Henrik Sedin had a goal and an assist.
The Sabres and Flyers will also conclude their physical series that’s featured the traditional Philadelphia goaltending mess with a deciding game tonight. Lastly, the Penguins aren’t facing the shame of a historical sputter after being up 3-0 like the Canucks are, but their stumble against Tampa Bay has still been surprising. After holding a 3-1 advantage in the series, Pittsburgh has been outscored 12-4 in games five and six, and will head home for Wednesday’s Game 7.
Montreal and Boston could join the festivities if the Habs win tonight, blessing us with four Game 7′s in just the first round. Last spring the 2010 playoffs provided only four Game 7′s throughout the four rounds, after 2009 gave us the gift of seventh heaven six times.
So what should we expect over the next two nights? We took a look back at the 17 Game 7′s that have been played over the past five playoffs, which includes two crushing defeats for the Washington Capitals in the first round, two games that decided that year’s Stanley Cup winner, and one that decided a conference final. By comparison, 10 series sweeps occurred over the same time period.
What we found is that the location of the game is about as important as who scores first, and that we can expect a lot of scoring.
Game 7 by the numbers since 2006
Amount of overtimes: 2
Home team wins: 8
Road team wins: 9
Wins by the team that scores first: 12
Goals in the first five minutes of the first period: 5
Goals in the last five minutes of the third period: 13 (only two of which were empty-net goals)
First period goals: 23
Second period goals: 39
Third period goals: 28
Winning team goals: 55
Losing team goals: 26
Total penalties: 149
Powerplay goals: 15
Goals by a defenceman: 13
We already know that pre-game statistics always come to fruition, so what does all of this mean? Well, for starters the powerplays will resemble those tykes skating around in the Sidney Crosby Tim Hortons commercials. Extra time won’t be required, we’ll see an offensive onslaught in the second period, and the winning team will nearly double the score of the loser.
I not only believe everything these numbers tell me, but I also treat Bob Cole’s every word as scripture. Combined this leaves little doubt that we’ll witness the standard jitters and feeling out period in the opening minutes, followed by some dramatics in the final frame.
Of course, that practice of believing everything Cole says probably isn’t a good idea, because if we all did that then the hockey team from Boston would be called the “Broons.”