Game 7, as in there's no tomorrow, is NHL's lifeblood

Commentary

May 01, 1992|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,Staff Writer

Thoughts on the NHL hockey playoffs:

With due respect to baseball, the Grand Old Game stages a truly memorable World Series every decade or so, and immediately nominates it for best-of-all-time status.

Every spring, the NHL has 15 series matchups on the way to the Stanley Cup and as many as a half-dozen of them approach classic proportions.

Look at the situation tonight, no less than four Game 7's as the Patrick and Adams Divisions get down to determining which of )) its teams will meet for the right to go for the Wales Conference crown.

Over in the Campbell Conference, they had a couple of cakewalks, Chicago and Edmonton advancing in six games while Detroit-Minnesota and Winnipeg-Vancouver were duking it out in Game 7's last night.

Game 7. There is no more exciting term in sports as it conjures up thoughts of teams battling dead even for a week only for the issue to come down to one final toss of the dice. And recall some of the things that have transpired as six of the eight series moved inexorably to the ultimate game.

Just as the horn sounded ending New Jersey's 5-3 victory over the New York Rangers Wednesday night, a bench-clearing brawl had bodies flying hither and yon. The league shudders at such appalling behavior (not really), but it assures Madison Square Garden will resemble our perception of Judgment Day tonight.

By the way, the Rangers have never won a seventh game in their 66-year history.

The Red Wings finished as the third best team during the regular season, but lost their first two games at home and had to come back from a 3-1 game deficit against the North Stars, who seem to regard the regular season as an extended exhibition campaign.

Talk about excitement. Imagine a scoreless game ending in overtime with an instant replay official checking the tape and decreeing, yes, Detroit should have been credited with the winning tally the goal judge missed. In Minnesota, no less.

Everybody knows the Hartford Whalers had no chance against the tradition-bound and rock-steady Montreal Canadiens. Oh no! The Whalers won at home in overtime in Game 6 to force a showdown at hockey's holy grail, the Forum (bow your head).

After losing two games at home and falling behind, 3-1, Buffalo was thinking off-season and Boston was thinking about its annual spring fling against Montreal. The Sabres then blanked the Bruins in the Boston Garden and embarrassed them, 9-3, to square matters.

The Smythe Division-leading Vancouver Canucks were down, 3-1, to Winnipeg, which slipped into the tournament at the 11th hour, before frolicking 8-2 and 8-3 in the last two games.

Both the Blackhawks and the Oilers had to be experiencing much self-doubt after each split the first four games against St. Louis and Los Angeles before closing the series out with back-to-back victories.

Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals won three of the first four games played with the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins, it seems, really don't get interested until assuming a position comfortably in arrears of the opposition. Check out last year's championship charge:

They had to win in New Jersey to force a Game 7 at home, which they won. Next, they lost the first game at home and were trailing late in Game 2 before winning in overtime and going on to eliminate the Caps. They lost the first two games to Boston before getting righted, then trailed Minnesota, 2-1 in the Cup final before burying the Stars with 19 goals over the last three games.

They make fun of the fact the NHL conducts an 80-game season to eliminate just six of its 22 teams from postseason play. But look what the four No. 4 seeds have done in the division semifinals, forced a Game 7 against the division leaders.

Three of the five most successful teams during the 1990-91 season were Chicago (1), St. Louis (2) and Edmonton, the defending Cup champs. They all got taken out by Minnesota, which showed up at the playoffs bearing all the pomp and circumstance of a skunk at a lawn party. It's great stuff and it happens every year in the NHL.

* An exhaustive search through the bylaws of the NHL has uncovered that nowhere is it stated that when Mario Lemieux has the puck for Pittsburgh that all Washington personnel must vTC back off 20 feet, allowing him room to operate.

Consistently through the first six games, two of which saw Mario turn in six and five-point games, Cap defensemen and checkers have treated Lemieux as if he has a highly-communicative and deadly disease. All along Capitals fans have been asking themselves, where's Bill Laimbeer when you really need him?

If Washington doesn't break hockey's 11th commandment, Thou Shalt Not Hit Mario, and attempt to contain him somewhat tonight, there's every chance the ever-present "choke" charge will be with the team for another decade.

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