You know what they say: There’s nothing is better than a Game 7.
Well… usually. After six games of back-and-forth action, a deciding seventh game is almost always worth watching. The stakes are high, the teams are evenly matched, and the drama can be off the charts. It’s where reputations can be forged and championship dreams can be crushed, and many of the greatest moments in hockey history have come in Game 7.
But every now and then, a Game 7 serves up a dud. That was the case Wednesday night, when the Blues went into Dallas and smoked the Stars 6-1. Hopefully we’ll get something a little more entertaining in Thursday’s Sharks-Predators showdown. But it’s always wise to prepare for the worst. So today, let’s take a look at five games that will join the Stars and Blues as the worst Game 7 of the last 25 years.
1992: Devils vs. Rangers
The dramatic build: The Rangers had won the Presidents’ Trophy, but were facing heavy pressure under the weight of years of playoff disappointment. They added key pieces like Mark Messier and Adam Graves at the start of the season and were boasting a massive payroll in an attempt to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1940. But they were facing an underdog Devils team that was putting up a fight – literally, in some case, including a wild bench-clearing brawl at the end of Game 6.
The dud: Despite the high stakes and bad blood, Game 7 was never competitive. Messier, Graves and Darren Turcotte all scored twice, and the Rangers were up 6-1 midway through the second period. They’d end up taking an 8-4 decision in what went on to be ranked the worst Game 7 (in any sport) in Madison Square Garden history.
Of course, two years later the two teams would get another shot at Game 7, this time in the conference final. That one ended up being just a little more memorable.
1993: Blues vs. Maple Leafs
The dramatic build: Both teams had scored first round upsets, with the Leafs knocking off the Red Wings in seven while the Blues shocked the Blackhawks in four. Their series started with a pair of double-overtime classics, and a dominant storyline quickly emerged: It was the high-powered offense of Doug Gilmour and the Maple Leafs vs. the spectacular goaltending of Blues’ first-year starter Curtis Joseph. After Joseph stood on his head to win a tight 2-1 decision in Game 6, the two teams headed back to Toronto for a series-deciding showdown.
The dud: Joseph picked the wrong time to unveil his Hardy Astrom impression, surrendering four goals in the opening period to decide the game before the first intermission had arrived.
The lead had grown to 6-0 by midway through the second, and that held up as the final in a game that’s probably best remembered for one of the only shots Joseph did stop – with his face.
For what it’s worth, this may not even have been the most miserable Game 7 for the early-90s Blues, with the other just missing the 25-year cutoff. Things were arguably even worse for St. Louis in 1990, when they dropped an 8-2 loss to the Blackhawks. But at least nobody took a slapshot between the eyes in that one.
2002: Avalanche vs. Red Wings
The dramatic build: Oh, only the greatest rivalry of a generation, if not the entire history of pro hockey. The Red Wings/Avalanche blood feud had everything, from cheap hits to brawling goalies. It also had an almost ridiculous amount of talent on display, with the number of future Hall of Famers dressing for some of the matchups reaching the double digits.
What it had never had, despite four playoff matchups in the previous six years, was a Game 7. That finally arrived in 2002, thanks to a Red Wings’ road win in Game 6 that’s best remembered for Patrick Roy’s Statue of Liberty gaffe. That set the stage for the first and only Game 7 in the rivalry’s history, and with the Hurricanes waiting in the final, it was fair to say that this game felt like it was for the Stanley Cup.
The dud: The Red Wings opened the scoring less than two minutes in, then added another just a minute later. Midway through the first it was 3-0, and by intermission it was 4-0. Two more second period goals chased Roy from the net, and the Wings went on to a 7-0 win in what stands as the biggest blowout in NHL Game 7 history.
In hindsight, this dud essentially marked the end of the Wings/Avalanche rivalry; they didn’t meet in the playoffs again until 2008, when most of the main characters had long since moved on.
(And yes, Red Wings fans, I realize that you think this was actually the best Game 7 ever. That’s the nature of rivalries. But the rest of us wanted to see a classic, not a butt-kicking.)
2009: Penguins vs. Capitals
The dramatic build: In the first ever showdown between the league’s two biggest stars, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby led their teams through a fascinating series that featured three overtime thrillers and only one game decided by more than one goal. The best of those games was Game 2, in which both Crosby and Ovechkin recorded hat tricks in a Capitals win. With the two teams facing off in Washington in the deciding game, it felt like we were in for a classic.
The dud: After a frantic opening ten minutes, the Capitals laid an egg in front of their home crowd, falling behind 2-0 by the end of the first. Bill Guerin’s goal in the opening minute of the second was the dagger, the Pens were up 5-0 midway through the second. Crosby ended up with two goals and an assist as Pittsburgh cruised to a 6-2 win.
“Wow, that was as bad as a Game 7 loss can be,” said disappointed Capitals fan. “Oh, just wait a year,” replied the hockey gods.
2011: Bruins vs. Canucks
The dramatic build: This is the only Stanley Cup final to make our list, so the stakes couldn’t be higher. This felt like two different series, with the Canucks winning tight games in Vancouver and the Bruins racking up blowout wins in Boston. There had also been plenty of drama, controversy and bad blood. Factor in the Canucks looking for the first Cup in franchise history and the Bruins’ chasing their first in almost four decades, and Game 7 felt like a powder keg.
The dud: The team that scored first had won all six games, so some air went out of the building when the Bruins opening the scoring late in the first. That one-goal lead held up until midway through the second, when Boston added two more (including one shorthanded) to all but clinch the game. An empty-netter in the third made for a 4-0 final.
It’s fair to say that Vancouver fans weren’t happy with the result; they savaged Gary Bettman during the Cup presentation, then headed outside into a riot. The Canucks haven’t been out of the first round since, and their championship window seems firmly shut by this point. Other than that, this one went well.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.