Heads or tails?
From a statistical standpoint, the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks have a fairly even chance of winning Game 7 Tuesday night to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals.
The odds are slightly better for the Canucks, who are trying to avoid becoming the fourth Presidents’ Trophy winners in six years escorted from the playoffs in the opening round, as of the NHL's 133 Game 7s from 1939 to 2010, the home team is 80-53 (.602) overall, with a 28-21 (.571) edge in the first round.
To complicate matters, in NHL/NBA/MLB history when a team wins the opening three games and loses the next three games in the pattern of playing at home, home, away, away, home and away, such as the Canucks have, teams have a 4-2 Game 7 record. Teams in the wake of the opposite win/site order, like the Blackhawks, sport a 1-2 record in Game 7.
Vancouver is 5-4 lifetime in Game 7 and 3-2 playing it on home ice; the Canucks last won a seventh game in Vancouver on April 23rd, 2007, beating the Dallas Stars 4-1. Despite Dallas holding a 1-0 lead after the first period, Vancouver got goals from Henrik Sedin, Trevor Linden, Taylor Pyatt and Bryan Smolinski, and 19 saves from Roberto Luongo, to complete the comeback.
That game had a positive impact on all seven current Canucks that played in it and it’s an experience the Sedins, Luongo, Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa, Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows will draw from going into Tuesday night’s do or die Game 7 at Rogers Arena.
“As a player, it’s nice to have been there before,” said Burrows. “I remember my first one, it was my second year and I was nervous and wondering what it would be like a stuff. Tomorrow my focus will be way different than back then, maybe it’s just that I’m older and I’ve been around a bit longer.
“We’ve got to treat it as a big game and if we play the same way we played yesterday and we get a few bounces, we should be alright.”
The Canucks hold the edge in Game 7 experience over the Blackhawks, but as Luongo, who coach Alain Vigneault confirmed confirmed confirmed will start Tuesday night, pointed out, Chicago’s players got worlds of experience from their Stanley Cup run last season.
In the 2010 NHL Playoffs home teams finished 0-4 in Game 7s, including a 4-3 Philadelphia road win over Boston to complete the improbable 0-3 comeback Chicago is looking to duplicate.
The Blackhawks, one of only three teams to drop the opening three games of a series after winning the Stanley Cup the year prior, will come into Vancouver with an abundance of swagger as they look to bounce the Canucks from the playoffs a third straight year. They’ve won three straight Game 7 tilts, and four of their last five.
The Canucks failed to eliminate their rivals again Sunday night in Game 6, but coach Vigneault called it the “best game of the series” and general manager Mike Gillis took that a step further dubbing it Vancouver's “best game of the year.”
It’s looking up for both teams and the Canucks know a win will wash away all the negativity incurred within the last seven days.
“It’s one game, we’ve got to win one game and if we do that, everything else is forgotten,” said Henrik Sedin, Vancouver’s Game 7 points leader with two goals and two assists in four career elimination matches.
“Everyone is going to forget about losing three games in a row, they’re going to forget about taking this to Game 7, they’re going to forget about everything. We’re going to focus on tomorrow and see it as a one-game series.”
Your stomach is surely in knots already and it’s evident the players have a few butterflies as well, just remember, as Luongo said, to soak it all in. Regardless of how Vancouver and Chicago got to Game 7, they’re playing in the most rousing, exciting, nerve-wracking spotlight hockey has to offer.
“It’s an intense, high-pressure situation and the nerves will be there definitely, but we can’t forget to enjoy it because those are fun games to be a part of,” said Luongo. “These are moments that you’re going to remember the rest of your life, so it’s important that in the process you do enjoy it.”
If picking the winner of Game 7 is as easy as a coin-flip, I propose the following: heads Canucks win, tails Blackhawks lose.