The Winnipeg Jets are preparing for the first Game 7 in franchise history, but they can go into it knowing that history doesn’t really favor experience over inexperience on a team-by-team basis.
Thursday’s Game 7 for the Predators isn’t altogether unfamiliar territory as Nashville has some recent history with series-deciding contests. Back in the 2016 playoffs, the Predators shocked the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round before taking the San Jose Sharks to Game 7 in Round 2, though the latter got away from Nashville.
For the Winnipeg Jets, however, this is uncharted territory.
Dating back to their time as the Atlanta Thrashers, the Jets franchise has never seen Game 7. Granted, that’s not entirely surprising given the Thrashers only made one post-season appearance during their time in Georgia, and that series was over as quickly as it began thanks to a four-game sweep. Nevertheless, this will be the first time for much of the team that they’re playing in a winner-take-all affair.
So, what can history tell us about franchises facing Game 7 for the first time? Well, turns out, not a whole lot. In fact, the odds of a team facing its first Game 7 winning are about the same as losing. Of the 31 current NHL franchises, 28 teams have played in Game 7s — Winnipeg is joined by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Vegas Golden Knights as the holdouts — and those organizations have a collective 13-15 record in their first series-deciding games, and here’s a breakdown of how each current franchise has fared in their first Game 7:
ANAHEIM DUCKS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 3-6
The franchise didn’t have to wait long to face its first winner-take-all challenge during the Mighty Ducks days. It took only four seasons from expansion for Anaheim, led by Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya, to earn a post-season berth, and the first playoff series in franchise history went the distance in 1996-97. The Ducks emerged victorious in their first Game 7, defeating the Phoenix Coyotes 3-0 in the series-deciding game.
ARIZONA COYOTES — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 0-5
The Coyotes have played in three Game 7s since arriving in the desert, but the franchise’s first seventh game came during their Winnipeg days. In 1989-90, the original Jets squared off against the (Gretzky-less) Oilers, a common playoff rival, and had Mark Messier and Co. on the ropes before Edmonton put up three -straight wins to take the series in seven.
BOSTON BRUINS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 14-12
The Eddie Shore and Milt Schmidt era Bruins, backstopped by Hall of Fame duo Frank Brimsek and Tiny Thompson, was the first Boston team to face a Game 7. And it was a doozy. The Bruins and the New York Rangers went to triple overtime in the series-deciding game, and it was Boston’s Mel ‘Sudden Death’ Hill, who had already scored two OT winners in the 1939 battle, who scored the series-winning goal.
BUFFALO SABRES — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 1-6
Captained by Gilbert Perreault and coached by Scotty Bowman, the 1983 Sabres were the first in Buffalo’s history to go to a Game 7, and the Sabres came one shot short of heading to the third round. No one in blue and yellow could score the game-winner, though, and it was Boston’s Brad Park who ended the contest and handed the Bruins the series victory.
CALGARY FLAMES — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 5-7
The present-day Jets are hoping they have something in common with Calgary, because during the Flames’ Atlanta days, the franchise didn’t win a single playoff series. Once they relocated north of the border, though, the Flames won a series for the first time before a Game 7 in the second round. And, heading out on the road in 1981 for the first Game 7 in franchise history, the Flames skated away with a 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
CAROLINA HURRICANES — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 4-3
Having snapped a five-year playoff drought, the Whalers headed into the post-season and became familiar faces in Quebec. First, they beat the Nordiques in the opening round of the 1986 playoffs, but that set up a second round, eventual Game 7 meeting with the Montreal Canadiens. But that Habs group, led by some kid named Patrick Roy, had a certain magic, and despite the Whalers forcing overtime in Game 7, Montreal’s Claude Lemieux fired home the winner.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 7-7
If there was one team the Black Hawks of the 1950s didn’t want to run into in the post-season, it was the Canadiens, who were just beginning a run of 10 consecutive Stanley Cup final appearances. As luck would have it, though, that’s exactly who Chicago drew in the opening round of the 1953 post-season, and it should come as no surprise that the Jacques Plante-led Habs basically shut down the Hawks en route to a 4-1 Game 7 victory.
COLORADO AVALANCHE — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 6-7
The Nordiques had a relatively quick rise to playoff power, all things considered, and by their third season in the NHL, Quebec was facing its first Game 7 against a rival that was all too familiar in the province, the Bruins. Boston and Quebec fought blow for blow through the best-of-seven in 1982, but a mid-third period goal by Dave Pichette stood as the series winner as the Nordiques moved on.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 0-0
Columbus has made four post-season appearances in franchise history, but they’ve yet to experience a seventh game. The closest they’ve come is a 4-2 series defeat.
DALLAS STARS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 5-7
The Stars, during their Minnesota North Stars years, waited all of one season to see a Game 7. Entering the league as part of the first wave of 1967-68 expansion, the North Stars faced a seventh game in their first-ever post-season series against the Los Angeles Kings. Minnesota absolutely walloped Los Angeles in the series-decider, however, by a final score of 9-4. The North Stars faced their second Game 7 in the very next series, but it was also their first winner-take-all loss, this time to the St. Louis Blues.
DETROIT RED WINGS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 14-11
The Red Wings are the first team on this list to face their first Game 7 on the grandest possible stage, the Stanley Cup final. They’re also the first team on this list to lose their first Game 7 at such a heartbreaking stage of the playoffs. Detroit had Toronto on the ropes in the 1942 final, winning the first three games, but the Maple Leafs rattled off four straight wins, including a 3-1 Game 7 victory, to flip the script and win the Cup.
EDMONTON OILERS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 6-4
Keep scrolling, Oilers fans, because you know how this one goes. Edmonton’s first Game 7 came against the Calgary Flames in the 1986 post-season, and Perry Berezan scored the winner. Well, sort of. Berezan was actually credited with the goal after Edmonton defender Steve Smith’s errant pass deflected off of Grant Fuhr and into the Oilers’ net. It stood as the winning goal and put an end to Edmonton’s run as two-time defending champions.
FLORIDA PANTHERS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 1-1
The Panthers were in their infancy, just three seasons old, when they faced their first Game 7 in 1996. And up against the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins, with stars Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, few would have given Florida a chance. But the Panthers, who were on an unthinkable run, rattled off a 3-1 victory and punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup final by holding Lemieux and Jagr to one point apiece in the crucial seventh game.
LOS ANGELES KINGS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 7-4
If you’ve been paying attention and not just scrolling on through, you know how this one goes. The expansion Kings earned a playoff berth in 1968 and faced the North Stars in the first round, but Los Angeles got its doors blown off in Game 7. Minnesota shelled Hall of Fame netminder Terry Sawchuk, scoring nine goals to send the Kings packing.
MINNESOTA WILD — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 3-0
The Wild faced two Game 7s in their first trip to the post-season in 2003 and won both. First up, though, was a meeting with an Avalanche team that had been to four consecutive Western Conference finals. Despite being severely outmatched when it came to experience, Minnesota forced overtime in Game 7 and in a moment of magic, Andrew Brunette scored a game- and series-winner that’s still fondly remembered in the State of Hockey.
MONTREAL CANADIENS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 14-9
Having missed the post-season the previous campaign, the Canadiens returned to the playoffs in 1949 hoping to recapture past glory. Instead, they faced the franchise’s first Game 7 and were sent home in the first round as Detroit fired home two late goals in the second period to hand Montreal the loss. Canadiens fans didn’t stay upset for long, though, as Montreal began a decade of domination shortly thereafter.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 1-1
Nashville has only spent three seasons outside the playoffs since 2004, but the Predators only saw Game 7 for the first time during their 2016 run. In the first round, Nashville headed out to Anaheim for a seventh game against the Ducks, and pulled out a 2-1 victory despite their underdog status. They would see a second Game 7 in the very next series, but would drop that contest 5-0 to the San Jose Sharks.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 7-7
Having missed the playoffs for the past nine seasons, not much would have been expected of the Devils. As it turns out, though, New Jersey had what it took to make some noise. And in the franchise’s first Game 7 in the second round of the post-season, the Devils squared off against and defeated the Washington Capitals 3-2 on the strength of John MacLean’s late-third period goal.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 3-5
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the Islanders rose to prominence, but the signs of a winner were visible back in 1975 when New York headed into their first ever post-season and battled their way to the semifinal. In getting there, the Islanders had to face their first-ever Game 7, a meeting with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Ed Westfall delivered the winner — and the game’s only goal — for New York with five minutes remaining.
NEW YORK RANGERS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 9-6
Again, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know what happens here. The Rangers dug themselves out of a 3-0 hole to tie the series against Boston at three wins apiece, but in a marathon overtime outing in Game 7 in 1939, the Bruins’ Mel Hill scored to send New York back to Broadway.
OTTAWA SENATORS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 0-6
The first few seasons in Senators history were, uh, rocky to say the least. But in 1996-97, Ottawa started to turn things around, starting a run of 11 straight post-season appearances. That first year in the playoffs, though, ended in seven games, though the Senators came one shot away from moving on. Unfortunately, if was Buffalo’s Derek Plante who scored the overtime winner.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 9-7
That first expansion year, 1967-68, had its share of seven-game series, and that included the Flyers’ meeting with the St. Louis Blues in the first round. But Philadelphia, who had the best regular season of any expansion club, didn’t come out the victors. Instead, it was St. Louis that came through with the 3-1 victory in what was the first Game 7 for both franchises.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 10-7
The first Game 7 for the Islanders came at the same time as the first Game 7 for the Penguins, which means we already know who won this 1975 series. Only one goal was scored in a meeting between two relative upstart teams, and that came when Ed Westfall scored with five minutes left in regulation. It took 16 years before the Penguins finally advanced beyond the second round.
SAN JOSE SHARKS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 6-4
It’s a famous goal when it comes to Bay Area hockey. The puck is chipped in deep, Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood goes out to play it up the boards and the Sharks’ Jamie Baker slaps it home before the Detroit netminder can get back between the pipes. That goal sent San Jose on to the second round of the 1994 playoffs, and it was their first Game 7 victory in their first attempt at a series-deciding contest.
ST. LOUIS BLUES — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 8-8
Upon entering the league, the Blues went to three straight Stanley Cup finals. That run never would have been possible without a Game 7 victory right out of the gates, though. Squaring off with the Flyers in the first playoff series for both clubs in 1968, the two squads went to seven games, where Glenn Hall stood on his head and made 32 saves on 33 shots to give the Blues the Game 7 win.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 5-2
The Lightning’s first Game 7 victory sent them to the Stanley Cup final in 2004, but it’s a victory that game in nail-biting fashion. For the final 30 minutes, Tampa Bay protected a one-goal lead against the Flyers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final, but a strong effort from Nikolai Khabibulin saved the day. He stopped 22 of 23 shots as the Lightning moved on to play for the Stanley Cup, which they would win in — you guessed it — seven games.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 12-11
Toronto had Boston’s back against the wall in the opening round of the 1941 playoffs, trailing 3-2 in the series heading back home. But the Maple Leafs were narrowly defeated in Game 6, leading to their first Game 7. And in the winner-take-all affair, the Bruins’ Frank Brimsek stopped all but one shot and Mel Hill delivered the winner with less than six minutes remaining in regulation.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 6-5
The Flames won the 1989 Stanley Cup, but history could have been altered if it weren’t for Joel Otto as Vancouver, having never played in a Game 7 prior, forced Calgary to overtime in the first round of the 1989 post-season. The Canucks, however, came up short in the contest when, in the final minute of the first overtime frame, Otto scored the series-deciding goal.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 0-0
Two post-season series, two post-season losses. It might be a while before we see a Game 7 for the Golden Knights.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 4-11
It took a long time for the Capitals to find their footing in the NHL — eight years to make the playoffs, a decade to win a round — and it wasn’t until 1987 that Washington finally felt the pressure of Game 7. The game itself, though, was an instant classic. The four-overtime Game 7 is known as the Easter Epic, but it’s not a game that’s necessarily fondly remembered in Capitals lore as it was the Islanders’ Pat LaFontaine who scored the winner nine minutes into the fourth extra period.
WINNIPEG JETS — All-Time Record in Game 7s: 0-0
Thursday night, the Jets will have their first foray into Game 7.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.