Stanley Cup Playoffs: Ranking the Best Game 7s in the Past Decade

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2013

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Ranking the Best Game 7s in the Past Decade

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    If you're a die-hard hockey fan, there's nothing more exciting than a seven-game series in the NHL playoffs.

    How about Sunday's thrilling Game 7 win, when Detroit came back from a two-game deficit to beat Anaheim and advance to the Western Conference Semifinals against their arch rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, in what has the potential to be one of the most-watched playoff series in a long time.

    Or how about Monday's Game 7 to determine whether the Washington Capitals or New York Rangers, or the Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs, will advance to the second round? We can't wait for those games to start, that's for sure!

    Let's face it, 4-0 or 4-1 series blowouts are fairly boring, especially for the losing team and its fans.

    But a back-and-forth seven-game series, or one where a team takes a dominating 3-0 or 3-1 lead, only to watch the underdog come back, well, it just doesn't get much better than that.

    And what's neat about some of the best nail-biting Game 7s are they occur in series that weren't necessarily considered marquee matchups heading into the playoffs.

    We look back on the last decade (from 2003-2012) of Game 7s in the Stanley Cup playoffs and pick the 10 best. This list does not include Stanley Cup Finals because that's a whole other slideshow for another time.

No. 10 Lightning vs. Penguins, 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins took a 3-1 lead in their first ever playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning—including a double overtime loss in Game 4—and looked like they had make it a five-game matchup.

    The Lightning, however, were a team that just would not quit.

    Even though it was only an opening-round series, Game 7 had the air of a Stanley Cup Final, as the back-and-forth action kept fans from both teams on the edge of their seats, either in the arena or in front of a TV.

    Lightning forward Sean Bergenheim began and ended the scoring for both teams with a goal early in the second period. And from there, the action got tenser until the final horn sounded.

    The Lightning rallied back to win three in a row over the favored Penguins and advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

No. 9 Canucks vs. Blackhawks, 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals

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    Chicago Blackhawks fans were hoping their team would start the playoffs in the right way and potentially earn their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.

    Unfortunately, arch rival Vancouver came into the series—the third straight year it had met Chicago in the postseason—with a different idea, especially since the Canucks were seeded No. 1 vs. the No. 8-seeded Blackhawks.

    Vancouver looked like it would make the series a rout, winning the first three games. But Chicago rallied to win the next three straight, looking like the team that had dominated en route to the NHL championship the year before.

    The Blackhawks ultimately became only the seventh team to force a seventh game in the playoffs after being down 3-0. They almost made it four wins in a row, but Vancouver won in overtime to move on, while sending the defending Stanley Cup champs home in a most cruel way.

No. 8 Flyers vs. Bruins, 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals

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    Hard as it may seem to believe, it had been 32 years since the Flyers and Bruins met in the playoffs, with the latter winning in the then Stanley Cup semifinals.

    Philadelphia fell behind 3-0 in the series and looked like it would be heading for a quick exit. But the Flyers were bound and determined to at least make a series out of it—and wound up doing even more than that.

    When the deciding Game 7 began, Boston looked scattered and unfocused. And that's exactly what cost them the game, when the Bruins were whistled for too many men on the ice.

    Philadelphia used that as motivational material, not to mention a game-winning power-play goal on the Bruins' home ice to win both the game and the series 4-3, sending the Flyers back home and on to the Eastern Conference Finals.

No. 7 Capitals vs. Flyers, 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

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    The Capitals were considered favorites in their opening-round series against the Flyers, who were still feeling the effects of being the worst team in the NHL the season before.

    But Philly wasn't about to roll over. After losing the opening game of the series, the vastly improved Flyers won the next three games (including a double-overtime win in Game 4) to take a 3-1 series lead and looked to close things out in Game 5.

    That didn't happen. Ditto for Game 6, as the Capitals showed a mighty resurgence, setting the stage for a memorable deciding Game 7.

    You have to give the Capitals credit, they matched the Flyers goal for goal during the first three periods. But alas, Joffrey Lupul's power-play goal in overtime sank the Caps and gave the Flyers one of the most memorable comebacks in team history.

No. 6 Bruins vs. Capitals, 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

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    You couldn't beat this series for excitement and close play.

    In fact, this series was so close, it was the first time in NHL history that every game in the best-of-seven playoff series was decided by just one goal each.

    The Bruins came into the series as defending Stanley Cup champs from the season before. And as No. 2 seed to Washington's No. 7 seed, Boston seemed to have a definite edge at least on paper.

    But Washington worried about what was on the ice and not on paper, having great confidence in rookie goalie Braden Holtby to get the job done.

    That's exactly what Holtby did, backed by some great offensive play by his teammates, who took four of the seven games into overtime, splitting 2-2 with the Bruins.

    But everything came down to the deciding Game 7, and the upstart Capitals looked fresher, more aggressive and more focused from the opening puck drop.

    Matt Hendricks scored the first goal of the game for the Caps, and then Boston tied on Tyler Seguin's effort, sending the contest into the fourth and final OT match of the series.

    Washington's Joe Ward wasted little time in the extra period to score the game- and series-winner, while Holtby became only the third rookie goalie in NHL annals to beat the defending Stanley Cup champs.

    And speaking of which, it also marked the second time in as many years that the defending Cup champ went down in defeat in the opening round of the following year's playoffs (2010 Cup winner Chicago lost in the first round of the 2011 playoffs to Vancouver).

No. 5 Wild vs. Canucks, 2003 Western Conference Semifinals

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    In just their third season in the NHL, the expansion Wild showed they had quickly become a force to be reckoned with in their first ever playoff series.

    Facing a team with significantly more postseason experience in the Canucks, the Wild looked to be overmatched, even though they had rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the favored Colorado Avalanche in the opening quarterfinals in seven games.

    In the second round, the Wild once again took their opponent to seven games. Not only did that catch the attention of many who gave Minnesota a snowball's chance to beat the Canucks, the way the Wild did it was equally as surprising.

    Vancouver took a 3-1 series lead—with each game being decided by just one goal apiece—and appeared ready to wrap things up in five games. Many observers to this day believe the Canucks came into the series far too over-confident—after all, this was the mighty Canucks against the lowly expansion team three years removed.

    As if a light switch was thrown, the Wild came back to outscore the Canucks 16-5 in the next three games, all Minnesota wins.

    Game 7 was the most crucial contest of all, but even though the Wild looked shaky early on, staking the Canucks to a 2-0 lead on their home ice, the visitors would score the next four goals to win 4-2 and continue their surprising move up the playoffs ladder.

    Minnesota became the first team in NHL history to rally back from 3-1 deficits in two series in the same postseason.

    Unfortunately, the Wild's Cinderella story would end in the Western Conference Finals, being swept 4-0 by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

No. 4 Canucks vs. Flames, 2004 Western Conference Quarterfinals

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    The Vancouver Canucks seemed to have everything going their way when they met the Calgary Flames in the 2004 Western Conference quarterfinals.

    The Canucks had come into the postseason riding a six-game winning streak to close out the regular season, while the Flames were seeing postseason action for the first time in eight seasons.

    It seemed almost a foregone conclusion that the Canucks would sweep past the Flames and then get serious for the second round.

    Unfortunately for Vancouver and its fans, the Flames turned into a firestorm rather than exit in a wisp.

    Game 6 went down as one of the most exciting and thrilling matches in both teams' history. Vancouver built a 4-0 lead, only to see Calgary battle back to tie and eventually force the game to three overtimes before Brendan Morrison scored to even the series at 3-3 and set up the deciding Game 7.

    If fans thought both teams were worn out from the Game 6 marathon, they were surprised to see how tenacious both teams were in Game 7 at Vancouver.

    Calgary looked like it would be advancing to the conference semifinals, but a pair of goals by Vancouver's Matt Cooke, the second one tying the game at 2-2 with just five seconds remaining in regulation and sending it into overtime.

    Unfortunately for the Canucks, they let down their home-ice fans as Martin Gelinas wasted little time, scoring less than a minute and a half into the extra period to give the Flames a 3-2 win, punching their ticket to the next round.

    Here's another irony: both teams met in the first round of the 1989, 1994 and 2004 playoffs, all three series went a full seven games, and Game 7 in each series was decided in overtime, and the winning team in each series would go on to the Stanley Cup Finals (Canucks in 1994, Flames in 1989 and 2004).

No. 3 Wild vs. Avalanche, 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinals

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    We've already covered what the Minnesota Wild did in their 2003 Western Conference semifinals series vs. the Vancouver Canucks.

    But to get to the semis, the Wild had to get through their first-ever playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche.

    And it was in that series where people perked up and began to take notice of how good a third-year team like the Wild really had become.

    Even when the Avalanche jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the opening-round series between both teams, the Wild would not turn mild.

    Minnesota won the opening game of the series, only to fall in the next three games and give Colorado a great opportunity to seal things in Game 5 or Game 6, neither of which ultimately happened.

    The Wild would win each of the last three games, including the deciding Game 7, all by the same identical score of 3-2—although Game 6 and 7 needed overtime.

    That Game 7 matchup was quite memorable, as Andrew Brunette scored 3:25 into OT to send the Wild into the next round while sending the Avalanche home until the following season.

    Coincidentally, Brunette's goal was the last one ever yielded in what would ultimately be the final game of his career for Colorado superstar goalie and future Hall of Famer Patrick Roy, who would announce his retirement from the game during the subsequent offseason.

No. 2 Capitals vs. Canadiens, 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

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    The Washington Capitals came into the opening round of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals with the most potent team in the league during the regular season, scoring an NHL-record 121 points.

    Montreal, meanwhile, barely made it into the postseason as an eighth seed. By all accounts, the Capitals were set to make short order of the Canadiens. And that's what looked like would happen after the Caps won Games 2, 3 and 4 to make it a 3-1 series edge going into Game 5.

    But Montreal had other ideas and went on to win the series' last three games. Particularly of note was the deciding Game 7, which was one of the most watched games ever for both teams.

    The Canadiens would upset the Caps 2-1 in Game 7 and pull off one of the biggest upsets in NHL history, marking the first time in league annals that a No. 8 seed had come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series against a No. 1 seed.

No. 1 Panthers vs. Devils, 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

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    It may be hard for some fans to consider this the best Game 7 of the playoffs in the last 10 seasons. But add up the facts and it may be hard to disagree.

    The Florida Panthers came into the opening-round series against the New Jersey Devils in a matchup of the No. 3 seed vs. the No. 6 seed.

    No big surprise there. Just another first-round series in many people's eyes.

    But as the series progressed, this became one that more people tuned in to as it went on.

    Both teams traded shutouts in Game 4 (Devils won 4-0, a record 24th career playoff shutout by goalie Martin Brodeur) and Game 5 (Panthers won 3-0), the latter giving Florida a 3-2 edge in the series.

    That's when what had already been a very exciting series ratcheted things up even more in Games 6 and 7.

    The Devils won Game 6 by a score of 3-2 in overtime, sending the series to a deciding Game 7.

    Surprisingly, the upstart Devils would not back down and played Finals-style hockey, matching the Panthers seemingly move-for-move and goal-for-goal.

    It ultimately took a second overtime, but the Devils' Adam Henrique proved to be the star of the game, scoring two goals including the game- and series-winner at 3:47 of the second overtime period to upset Florida by the same score as in Game 6, 3-2.


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