Ranking the 1st-Round Game 7s in Recent Stanley Cup Playoff History

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistApril 30, 2014

Ranking the 1st-Round Game 7s in Recent Stanley Cup Playoff History

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Game 7.

    Once and for all. Win or go home.

    For the third straight year, the NHL will feature three Game 7s to cap off an exciting first round of Stanley Cup playoff action.

    It's a stage set for drama, where teams' fortunes can be made or broken by a single play.

    As the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings prepare to do battle on Wednesday night, here's a look at the 10 Game 7s we've seen over the past three years and what those games have meant for their teams.

    Rankings were made in terms of overall impact of the result—what the winning team was able to do with its opportunity and how dramatically the losing team improved their fortunes. 

    It's nail-biting time.

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com.

10. 2011: Tampa Bay Lightning over Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Scene-Set: With Sidney Crosby sidelined due to his concussion during the 2011 Winter Classic and Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup after knee surgery, a depleted Pittsburgh Penguins team was facing an improving Tampa Bay Lightning squad that had made the playoffs for the first time in three years.

    The first six games were back-and-forth affairs, with the Lightning riding surprisingly steady veteran Dwayne Roloson in net while Pittsburgh received inconsistent netminding from Marc-Andre Fleury.

    The Game: In the first-ever Game 7 at CONSOL Energy Center, 41-year-old Roloson showed he had one more clutch performance in his bag of tricks. Roloson stopped all 36 Penguins shots he faced, allowing Sean Bergenheim's lone goal to stand up and sending the Lightning on to the second round.

    The Impact: The uncertainty of Crosby's health was the Penguins' primary concern as they signed off for summer, hoping to regroup with a full lineup in 2011-12.

    Meanwhile, the Lightning made the most of Roloson's hot streak and showed they had come to play, sweeping the Washington Capitals in the second round before losing a heartbreaking Game 7 to Boston in the Eastern Conference Final.

9. 2011: Philadelphia Flyers over Buffalo Sabres

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    Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

    The Scene-Set: Though 10 points separated the second-seeded Flyers from the seventh-seeded Sabres in the 2010-11 regular season, their first-round playoff series was a close-fought affair. Philadelphia was coming off an unlikely trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010, while Buffalo had gone three years without winning a playoff series.

    The favored Flyers found themselves down 1-0 and 3-2 in the series before posting a 5-4 win in Game 6 on an overtime goal from Ville Leino.

    The Game: Escaping Game 6 elimination provided the spark that the Flyers needed to finish the job in Game 7. Philadelphia jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and coasted to an easy 5-2 win.

    The Impact: Buffalo hasn't had a sniff of playoff action since losing to Philadelphia, and it drastically overpaid when it offered Sabre-killer Leino a six-year, $27 million contract as a free agent in July 2011.

    With no clear No. 1 goaltender, the Flyers were swept by Boston in the second round. They made a contract blunder of their own when they signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract later that summer.

8. 2012: New York Rangers over Ottawa Senators

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    The Scene-Set: This one-versus-eight series was remarkably close all the way through. The Rangers held a 17-point lead over the Senators in the 2011-12 regular-season standings, but Ottawa took a gritty route to a 3-2 series lead before the Rangers came back with a 3-2 win in Game 6 on rookie Chris Kreider's first NHL goal. 

    The Game: Game 7 was a duel between Ottawa's goaltender, Craig Anderson, and New York's Henrik Lundqvist, who had both been good all series. The Rangers took a 2-0 lead on second-period goals from defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, then hung on for the win after Daniel Alfredsson narrowed the margin to 2-1.

    The Impact: The Rangers went on to beat the rival Washington Capitals in seven games before falling to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final, but the relationship between coach John Tortorella and his team was starting to fracture. He'd be fired the following year.

    Despite being ravaged by injuries in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, the plucky Senators had a strong season and an impressive playoff performance against the Montreal Canadiens, but are now lost in the weeds of uncertainty after a subpar 2013-14 campaign.

7. 2013: New York Rangers over Washington Capitals

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    The Scene-Set: The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers met for the fourth time in five years in the 2012-13 playoffs. The Capitals had emerged victorious in 2009 and 2011, while the Rangers triumphed in 2012.

    The teams finished the regular season just one point apart, but Washington secured home-ice advantage as Southeast Division champions. The home team won the first six games of the series, setting the stage for a tense Game 7.

    The Game: The Rangers smashed the home-ice pattern in the deciding game with a 5-0 win over Washington, by far the most decisive victory of the series. Five different Rangers graced the scoresheet, while Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding in stopping all 35 Washington shots.

    The Impact: Despite the feel-good win against their rivals, animosity was brewing between the Rangers and their coach. After falling to Boston in five games in the second round, John Tortorella was fired.

    Meanwhile, Adam Oates stayed on in Washington despite the loss, guiding the Capitals through a full season of ups and downs before being dismissed himself after the 2013-14 season.

6. 2013: Detroit Red Wings over Anaheim Ducks

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    Debora Robinson/Getty Images

    The Scene-Set: The Red Wings were in a year of transition in 2012-13 following the retirement of captain Nicklas Lidstrom, not even sure they'd be able to keep their 21-year playoff appearance streak alive.

    A late-season surge saw them move into the seventh spot in the Western Conference, while the Anaheim Ducks rebounded from a year out of the playoffs to capture the second seed.

    The Ducks' momentum looked strong early in the series, but all bets were off when the Red Wings staved off elimination in Game 6 with their third overtime victory of the series.

    The Game: Henrik Zetterberg scored the overtime winner in Game 6, then got the Wings off to a hot start at 1:49 of the first in Game 7. It was 2-1 after one period, 3-1 after two and 3-2 when the final horn sounded, sending the favored Ducks off to the golf course for the summer.

    The Impact: With some minor retooling and a lot less reliance on goaltender Jonas Hiller, the Ducks won the Western Conference in 2014 and are safely through to the second round of the playoffs.

    The Red Wings put up a good fight against Chicago in the second round, but ultimately fell in overtime of Game 7. An endless string of injuries in 2013-14 left Detroit struggling to build a cohesive lineup, and it eventually lost to the Bruins in five games. The promise shown by its many minor-league call-ups this year, though, bodes well for the future.

5. 2012: Washington Capitals over Boston Bruins

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    The Scene-Set: Talk about close. This was the first-ever playoff series in which all seven games were decided by one goal. Boston was coming off its Stanley Cup win in 2011, while Washington was a team in flux after replacing coach Bruce Boudreau with Dale Hunter in November of 2011.

    The story of the series was Washington rookie Braden Holtby, who matched the play of 2011 Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas through the first six games.

    The Game: Who says the Caps can't win big games in the playoffs? Thanks to Hunter's inspiring coaching style, Washington jumped out to an early lead in Game 7 on a Matt Hendricks goal, then hung on for overtime after Tyler Seguin tied the game midway through the second period.

    Free-agent signing Joel Ward validated Washington's investment when he scored the winner at 2:57 of the extra frame. For the second straight year, the Stanley Cup champions were eliminated in the first round.

    The Impact: The Capitals couldn't parlay the win into a long playoff run; they fell in seven games to the New York Rangers in the second round. Dale Hunter returned to his junior hockey job with the London Knights and Washington is at another crossroads after releasing coach Adam Oates and general manager George McPhee this week.

    The Bruins lost Tim Thomas after the 2012 defeat. He announced a sabbatical from the game even before the 2012-13 lockout took hold, but the situation couldn't have turned out better for Boston. Backup Tuukka Rask has asserted himself as a top goaltender in the league

4. 2012: New Jersey Devils over Florida Panthers

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    The Scene-Set: For the first time in franchise history, the Florida Panthers won the Southeast Division Championship in 2011-12, giving them home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. 

    The Panthers held a 3-2 lead in the series, but the Devils staved off elimination at home in Game 6 on an overtime winner from Travis Zajac.

    The Game: Rookie Adam Henrique chose a good time to announce himself to the NHL with his first two playoff goals, including the game-winner in overtime. The Devils led the game 2-0 but surrendered two third-period goals to Florida, necessitating Henrique's heroics.

    The Impact: The underdog Devils went on to take care of the Flyers and the New York Rangers before bowing out to the Los Angeles Kings in six games in the Stanley Cup final. Henrique scored two more playoff game-winners along the way.

    The loss meant the Panthers' big season came to an abrupt end, with very little to show for their division championship. Florida has been in flux for the last two seasons as a new ownership group has taken charge and is creating a better vision for its future. 

3. 2011: Vancouver Canucks over Chicago Blackhawks

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    The Scene-Set: After beating Vancouver in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, then going on to win the Stanley Cup, the defending champion Blackhawks fell behind 3-0 in the 2011 opening-round series before winning three straight games to force Game 7 in Vancouver.

    The Game: The Canucks got an early goal from Alex Burrows in the first period, then rode steady goaltending from Roberto Luongo for most of the game, but the 'Hawks kept pressing. With Duncan Keith in the penalty box on a late third-period holding penalty, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa combined on the rush to tie the game and force overtime with 1:56 remaining.

    The Blackhawks were sure they were about to become the fourth team in NHL history to rebound from an 0-3 deficit, but Burrows had other ideas. After Vancouver killed off his holding penalty early in the overtime, he atoned for his miscue by stripping the puck from Chicago defenseman Chris Campoli and blasting the winning goal past Corey Crawford. 

    The Impact: The stunned champions were finished for the year, while the Canucks rolled past the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks on their way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they fell to Boston in seven games.

    Chicago was able to reset with its core group of players and come back to win another Cup in 2013, while Vancouver hit a peak in 2011. The Canucks have been in steady decline for the past three seasons.

2. 2013: Boston Bruins over Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    The Scene-Set: Making their first playoff appearance in eight seasons in 2013, the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs fought back from a 3-1 series deficit to force Game 7 in Boston. Plagued with injuries on their blueline, the 2011 Stanley Cup champions had the odds stacked against them.

    The Game: The Maple Leafs capitalized on their positive momentum for nearly 50 minutes, building a comfortable 4-1 lead and looking ready to cruise into the second round. Nathan Horton got the Bruins within two at the 9:18 mark of the third period, and then Boston kicked up the pressure.

    Two late goals 31 seconds apart tied the game to force overtime, where Patrice Bergeron scored his second goal of the game to give Boston the win and send Toronto home for the summer.

    The Impact: Instead of being eliminated in the first round, the Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Final before bowing out to the Chicago Blackhawks, then improved their team in the offseason to capture the 2014 Presidents' Trophy.

    The Leafs made changes over the summer that were intended to build on their playoff success and signed key leaders Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf to splashy long-term contracts, but a late-season collapse in 2013-14 pushed Toronto out of the playoff picture. The Leafs are now facing some tough decisions going forward.

1. 2011: Boston Bruins over Montreal Canadiens

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The Scene-Set: This series began as home-ice disadvantage, with the road team winning the first four games. The familiar foes played a mostly low-scoring series, with an overtime and a double-overtime game heading into Game 7 in Boston.

    Bad blood was especially thick between the two teams due to the ugly hit by Zdeno Chara in March that had ended Max Pacioretty's season after he collided hard with the partition between the benches.

    Boston was battling to overcome the bad memory of their 2010 playoffs, when it let a 3-0 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers slip away in the conference semifinal.

    The Game: Boston took a 2-0 lead, then went ahead 3-2 on Chris Kelly's goal midway through the third period. With Montreal on the power play late in the final frame, P.K. Subban forced overtime with 1:57 remaining, but Nathan Horton scored his second OT winner of the playoffs at 5:43, crushing a dejected Carey Price and vaulting Boston into the next round.

    The Impact: The Canadiens slowly started to retool their team, replacing coach Jacques Martin in November 2011 and bringing in Marc Bergevin to replace Pierre Gauthier in 2012.

    Meanwhile, the Bruins took full advantage of their overtime win, avenging their 2010 loss to Philadephia with a sweep, then beating the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks in seven games on their way to a Stanley Cup championship.