The resolution of the NHL lockout in 2005 signaled the transition into a new era for the NHL. As before the work stoppage, however, there have been several lengthy and exciting series that have culminated in a decisive game 7. In total, there have been twenty-four of these series-deciders in the past six years. In this slideshow I'll rank the top ten Game 7s based on two criteria:
1. The quality of the game, and
2. The importance/context of the game.
This means that a Conference Final or Stanley Cup Final Game 7 carries more weight than a first-round encounter. Games that are especially exciting, particularly overtime games, also tend to be ranked higher. Without further ado, here are the top ten Game 7s since the NHL lockout.
These two Original Six rivals have faced off an incredible thirty-three times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including eight Game 7s. Few encounters, however, were as genuinely exciting as this one.
This series started strangely, with the road team winning the first four games. It looked as if it might be five, but the Canadiens squandered several great chances in Game 5, and they fell to the Bruins in double overtime. The Canadiens then prevailed two to one in a must-win Game 6 at home, and the series returned to the TD Bankworth Garden for a decisive Game 7.
Game 7 was as entertaining as the series had been as a whole. Early Bruins goals by Johnny Boychuk and Mark Recchi were cancelled out by a power-play marker from Yannick Weber and a short-handed tally by Tomas Plekanec. Then, in the third, Chris Kelly put Boston ahead before P.K. Subban scored an unlikely equalizer with under two minutes to play. It appeared the Bruins would endure yet another year of playoff heartbreak, but Nathan Horton, playing in his first playoffs, blasted a shot past Carey Price under six minutes into overtime, and the Bruins were on their way to exorcising their playoff demons.
The first and only meeting so far between the two faces of the NHL had a disappointingly undramatic ending to what was an enthralling series.
The fireworks began in game two, where Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin each registered hat tricks in the Capitals' 4-3 win. The Penguins, however, would rally back from an 0-2 hole to take the series lead, before squandering it in overtime of Game 6, when Dave Steckel's overtime goal sent the series back to Washington, where the Capitals looked to have the momentum.
The Penguins, however, showed their class in Game 7. Quick strikes from Sidney Crosby and Craig Adams gave the Pens a 2-0 lead after one period. Two more tallies from Bill Guerin and Kris Letang gave the Penguins an insurmountable 4-0 lead and they would go on to win 6-2 on the way to their third Stanley Cup.
Playoff success has eluded the Capitals, who have still never advanced past the second round.
Easily one of the most famous playoff series in NHL history, the Flyers completed their epic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit by coming back from a 3-0 deficit in Game 7. The Bruins had stormed to a 3-0 series lead, and the Flyers look dead and gone. Simon Gagne's Game 4 overtime goal gave the Flyers some life, and Philly would take Games 5 and 6 as well, setting up a historic Game 7.
The Bruins came out with guns blazing in Game 7. After Milan Lucic's two goals extended the Bruins' lead to 3-0 with six minutes left in the first, it was easy to think they would cruise along to the Conference Final. The Flyers, however, had other ideas. Goals from James Van Riemsdyk, Scott Hartnell, and Danny Briere had the game tied after two periods. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, the Bruins were called for too many men on the ice at 11:10 of the third period, invoking painful memories of a series lost 31 years earlier to the Montreal Canadiens. Gagne cashed in on the power play, and the Flyers hung on in front of a stunned Boston crowd.
The Flyers would go on to the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Blackhawks in six games.
In this series, the Hurricanes rebounded from a Game 1 defeat to take the next three games and lead the series 3-1. Boston recovered and won Games 5 and 6, forcing a Game 7, something which Carolina had overcome to beat the New Jersey Devils just a couple weeks before.
The Bruins appeared to be on their way as Byron Bitz scored an important first goal just eight minutes in. The Hurricanes rallied, however, with tallies by Rod Brind'Amour and Sergei Samsonov. The Bruins pressed and finally tied it through Milan Lucic in the third period, which sent the game into overtime. Late in OT, Scott Walker became an unlikely hero by putting a rebound past Tim Thomas and sending the Hurricanes into the Conference Finals.
Carolina, however, would get swept by the Penguins in the following round.
A back-and-forth series saw the Lightning score five goals four times in the first six games, yet fail to wrap up the series. Tampa Bay was able to stave off elimination by beating the Bruins in Game 6, setting up the first Conference Final Game 7 in five years.
The game teetered on a knife's edge in Game 7, where no goals were scored and no penalties were committed through the first two periods. The tension built up through much of the third, and the game appeared destined for overtime. Nathan Horton, however, had other ideas, scoring his second Game 7 winner of the playoffs at 12:27 of the third, advancing the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final, and eliminating the Cinderella Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Bruins would go on the win their first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
Heartbreak for the Vancouver Canucks against the Chicago Blackhawks seemed to be coming when the eighth-seeded Hawks improbably rallied from three games down to level the series. Vancouver was the favorite going into the playoffs and they showed their class by edging the Blackhawks three straight times to take a commanding lead.
The defending-champion Blackhawks, however, would not go down without a fight. Blowouts in Games 4 and 5 followed by an overtime winner from Ben Smith in Game 6 sent the series back to Vancouver with an unbelievable amount of pressure on the Canucks.
Alex Burrows calmed the home fans' nerves by scoring early on in the first, and the Canucks looked on their way when Duncan Keith went to the box for hooking with just 3:17 left. Alas, the Canucks failed to seal the deal, as Jonathan Toews scored a spectacular short-handed goal to tie it with two minutes to play. Overtime soon followed in front of a stunned GM Place.
Burrows would again be the hero for the Canucks as he intercepted a Chris Campoli clearance and fired the game-winner past Corey Crawford.
The Canucks would go on to the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Bruins in another Game 7.
Thirty-three whole points separated these teams in the standings at the end of the regular season, and the Capitals were huge favorites going into the first round against the upstart Canadiens. Montreal, though, would steal Game 1 through Tomas Plekanec's overtime goal.
The Capitals responded in style after Game 1, winning Game 2 in overtime courtesy of Niklas Backstrom, then taking Games 3 and 4 in Montreal comfortably. Against all odds, the Canadiens stole Game 5 two to one, then won Game 6 behind a stellar performance from Jaroslav Halak, who stopped fifty-three shots to force a Game 7.
Back in the Capital, Washington again threw all kinds of pressure at Montreal, but it was the Canadiens' Marc-Andre Bergeron who scored on the power-play to give his team the lead. More excellent goaltending from Price kept the Caps at bay, and Dominic Moore scored a crucial insurance goal with under four minutes left. Brooks Laich brought the Caps within one, but the Canadiens hung on to pull off arguably the greatest upset in NHL playoff history.
The Canadiens would stun the Penguins in seven games in the following round, before bowing out to the Flyers in the Conference Finals.
In a series that seems like it took place ages ago, the Hurricanes took a quick two games to none lead thanks to 5-4 and 5-0 wins in Raleigh. The teams traded 2-1 victories back at Rexall Place, and the Hurricanes looked set to secure their first Stanley Cup in Game 5.
The Oilers, however, were able to rally, stunning the Hurricanes in Game 5 behind Fernando Pisani's OT winner, and then blowing out the 'Canes 4-0 in Game 6. A tense and physical Game 7 awaited back in Carolina.
The Hurricanes took a quick 2-0 lead in Game 7 behind goals by Aaron Ward and Frank Kaberle. Pisani scored early in the third to cut the lead in half, but Justin Williams sealed it with an empty-netter, setting off joyous celebrations among the Hurricanes fans. The win ended an unlikely run by the eighth-seeded Oilers, who were trying to become the first 8-seed to win the Stanley Cup.
A classic series saw the favored Canucks and the Bruins each take their first three home games: the Canucks via three one-goal games, and the Bruins by blowing out the Canucks three times. The pressure was on both teams to come through with a long-awaited Stanley Cup for their respective cities.
Only one team really showed up for Game 7. Patrice Bergeron scored a vital first-goal for the Bruins, and Brad Marchand doubled their lead midway throughout the second. Another Bergeron goal put the Bruins up 3-0, and Marchand scored his second into an empty net to seal the Cup for the Bruins.
This series will perhaps be best known for the riots which took place in Vancouver after the game. Unfortunately, those despicable acts may overshadow what was a fantastic series and a deserved Cup triumph for the Boston Bruins.
The signature moment for the post-lockout NHL took place in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals. The Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins had cancelled themselves out by each winning three home games in the first six games of this final rematch. All eyes were focused on Game 7, where the Penguins would try to exact revenge against the team that knocked them out the previous year.
A cagey start led to no goals being scored in the first period of Game 7. Then, Evgeni Malkin intercepted a Brad Stuart pass, and he fed Max Talbot who put the Penguins in the lead. Another Talbot goal following a bad pinch by Stuart put the Pens up 2-0 later on in the second.
The Red Wings pressed and pressed, and Jonathan Ericsson cut the Pens' lead in half with about six minutes to play. The Wings came close, and even hit a crossbar late on, but were unable to get another goal past Marc-Andre Fleury, who sealed the win with a diving save off Nicklas Lidstrom as time expired.
The win was the culmination of the rise of the Penguins, who won through a young core of Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Jordan Stall, and Fleury. Neither team has made it back to the Conference Finals since their epic series.