VANCOUVER – It was a Game 7 no one expected the Vancouver Canucks to be playing.
The last time the Canucks appeared in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final was in 1994 against the New York Rangers. The underdog Canucks had forced the decided match after trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
The 3-2 loss in the final game still haunts former Canucks defenceman Dave Babych.
“There are times when I start thinking about it and I still feel bad,” said Babych, who still works for the Canucks in player development.
“The toughest part is not knowing what it would be like to win. You are so close. If you give it your all, and you come up short, what will it take to win?”
This year’s edition of the Canucks will play the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Cup final Wednesday night.
Babych said the night before the game was the worst.
“You are trying to go to sleep and you start thinking about ‘it’s one game takes all,'” he said. “Then the sleep goes away.”
The Rangers had finished the 1994 regular season 112 points and the best record in the league. The Canucks were the seventh seed in the Western Conference with 85 points.
“We had a lot better team than our record indicated,” Babych said. “We were very well coached. A lot of good leadership throughout. It wasn’t just one or two guys.”
Just making it to the second Stanley Cup final in franchise history was a feat for Vancouver. The Canucks trailed the Calgary Flames 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs, but battled back with three overtime victories. Pavel Bure scored the winning goal in Game 7 in double overtime.
Vancouver then beat the fourth-seeded Dallas Stars and the third-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Rangers, seeking their first Cup in 54 years, swept the New York Islanders and then beat the Washington Capitals in five games. They needed seven games to beat the New Jersey Devils in the East final.
The Cup final opened at Madison Square Gardens with the Canucks surprising the Rangers 3-2. New York pushed Vancouver to the brink with victories of 3-1, 5-1 and 4-2.
The Canucks battled back with a 6-3 win in Game 5, then forced Game 7 with a 4-1 victory.
The series would be decided in New York.
“I remember going to the rink,” said Babych. “They had barricades all over the place and the police were corralling people.
“We needed a police escort to get to the rink. Once you got in the rink and the dressing room, a little more calmness set in. We just had to do our thing.”
The Rangers took an early 2-0 lead, but Canuck captain Trevor Linden scored short handed early in the second period.
Rangers captain Mark Messier made it 3-1 early in the third, before Linden again cut the margin to one.
With the score 3-2, and just 70 seconds left on the clock, Vancouver had a chance to tie the game. Geoff Courtnall sent a perfect to Nathan Lafayette. The rookie rang a shot off the goal post, allowing the Rangers to win.
The broadcast of Game 7 attracted an average audience of 4.9 million viewers to CBC. At the time, it was the most-watched CBC sports program in history.
After the game, over 50,000 people converged on downtown Vancouver and a riot resulted.
Over $1 million in damage was done and around 200 people were injured.
The Canucks did hold a rally at B.C. Place which drew 45,000 fans.
Babych still has mixed emotions over his Game 7 experience. The excitement of being so close to winning a Cup is trumped by the empty feeling of losing.
“Guys were torn apart,” he said. “You don’t know what it’s like to win and that’s probably the part that hurts the most.”