Hockey fans are going to get a rare treat Wednesday night, as the NHL serves up a pair of Game 7s. It will be the first time in a little over three years that we’ve had more than one in a night, and having a pair of Game 7s on the same date is relatively uncommon; it’s happened just ten times in the last two decades.
But if you want to get into the really rare stuff, you have to look for the nights where there were three or more. That’s only happened five times in NHL history, probably because hockey fans’ hearts couldn’t take much more than that.
So today, as we get ready for a Game 7 doubleheader, let’s look back at those five times that we’ve had three. We’ll start with the most recent, which came three years ago.
April 30, 2014
Before Wednesday night, this was the most recent case of even two Game 7s falling in the same night, as the opening round of the 2014 playoffs closed out with a trio of do-or-die games.
At Madison Square Garden, the Rangers and Flyers played a tight game to cap off a back-and-forth series. Despite some decent star power on hand, the goals came from some unlikely sources, with Daniel Carcillo and Benoit Pouliot scoring for the Rangers while Jason Akeson replied for the Flyers. Henrik Lundqvist outdueled Steve Mason in a 2-1 Rangers win.
We got another close one in Colorado, where the Avalanche faced the underdog Wild. A late goal by Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon pushed the game into overtime, where Nino Niederreiter finished off the upset.
The night’s third Game 7 wasn’t as close, but it made some history. The Kings went into San Jose and stomped the Sharks by a 5-1 final, finishing off just the fourth comeback from a 3-0 series deficit in NHL history. After dropping the first three games, the Kings won the next four by a combined score of 18-5, and went on to capture the franchise’s second Stanley Cup.
April 22, 2003
We have to go back over a decade to find our next triple-header, and it starts off feeling a bit familiar: With the Wild knocking off the favored Avalanche in overtime. This time it’s Andrew Brunette pulling off the move of a lifetime to send the Avs home – and end the career of Patrick Roy.
The night’s other two Game 7s didn’t pack quite as much drama. In Philadelphia, the Flyers pounded the Leafs 6-1, sending Toronto home in the first round for the only time during the Pat Quinn era. And in St. Louis, the Canucks finished off a rally from down 3-1 in the series to knock off the Blues by a 4-1 final; the Blues went on to win just one playoff game over the next seven seasons.
April 29, 1997
We get a little bit of history on this one; it’s the first (and to this day only) time in NHL history that we saw two Game 7 overtimes on the same night. And amazingly, neither involved the Wild beating the Blues.
First, let’s clear out the one regulation game, which saw the Mighty Ducks shutout the Coyotes 3-0 to earn the first playoff series win in franchise history. It was also their last for six years, until their unexpected run to the final in 2003. For the Coyotes, it was a disappointing end to their first season in Arizona, and even counting their Winnipeg days the franchise has still never won a seventh game.
Now on to the two sudden death games, both of which featured memorable finishes. In Buffalo, the Senators took their playoff debut to the limit but watched it end in heartbreak when Derek Plante’s bomb beat Ron Tugnutt. To this day, some swear that the puck actually went through Tugnutt’s glove, and the goalie’s agonized reaction suggest it could be true.
It would take a lot to overshadow that goal in the memories of hockey fans, but that’s what ended up happening in Dallas, when the Oilers shocked the Stars. In one of the most famous sequences in recent playoff history, Curtis Joseph’s miraculous robbery of Joe Nieuwendyk was immediately followed by Todd Marchant’s goal to cap off the upset.
May 19, 1995
The 1995 trio features another Canucks road win over the Blues, this one powered by a pair of Pavel Bure goals. The 5-3 final sent Vancouver on to Round 2, and ended Mike Keenan’s first season behind the bench in St. Louis. (He’d respond to the loss by getting truly weird with the following season’s roster.)
Another Central Division team had better luck on home ice, as the Blackhawks eliminated the Maple Leafs with a 5-2 win to finish off the first ever playoff series at the United Center. And in Calgary, the upstart San Jose Sharks pulled off a first-round stunner for the second year in a row, this time on the strength of Ray Whitney’s double-overtime winner.
May 1, 1992
We’ll close with the best of the bunch, and quite possibly the single best night of NHL playoff action ever. For the only time in league history, there were four Game 7 showdowns on the same day. And to make the evening even crazier, all four games were played at the same time.
This was the year that all four first-round series in the Wales Conference went to a deciding game, and all four ended up being memorable. The Bruins narrowly sneaked by the Sabres by a 3-2 final, running Buffalo’s streak of failing to make it past the first round to nine straight years. That stretch ended a year later, when the Sabres knocked out the same Bruins and produced one of the most famous goal calls of all-time in the process.
In New York, the Rangers hosted the Devils to finish off the first ever playoff matchup between the two teams. The two teams played a Game 7 classic two years later; this one, not so much. The Rangers won by an 8-4 final, lighting up New Jersey’s Chris Terreri while a little-known rookie watched on from the Devils bench.
In Montreal, the Whalers and Canadiens took their Game 7 to double overtime. The Whalers had only made it out of the first round once since joining the NHL, and had lost to the Canadiens four times since entering the league. Would a long run have saved the franchise? We’ll never know; Russ Courtnall ended it, and while we didn’t know it at the time, we’d just seen the last moment in Hartford Whalers playoff history.
And that leaves us with our fourth and final Game 7 from that night, and it might sound familiar: The Capitals facing the defending Cup champion Penguins, in Washington, with one team trying to complete the comeback from a 3-1 series deficit. In this case it was Pittsburgh that had fought back, and they finished the job in Game 7. The Pens got points from five players, and all five went on to the Hall of Fame. Pittsburgh went on to capture its second straight Stanley Cup a month later.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.