MONTREAL – Game 7s were a hot topic this week, and a player who was in a truly memorable do-or-die contest was Boston Bruins backup goaltender Alex Auld.
Auld played for a very good Vancouver Canucks team that lost to Calgary in overtime in Game 7 of their first-round NHL playoff series in 2004. The Flames went on to lose the Stanley Cup final in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The night before the loss to the Flames, the Canucks had forced the winner-take-all game with a 5-4 win in Calgary. Vancouver blew a 4-0 lead but Brendan Morrison ended up winning it for the Canucks at 2:28 of the third overtime period.
Back in Vancouver for Game 7, Matt Cooke scored with five seconds left in regulation time to tie it 2-2, but the Flames’ Martin Gelinas poked a rebound past Auld on the power play 1:25 into overtime.
“It was exciting, obviously a tough loss,” Auld recalled Monday, hours before the Bruins were to face the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series. “It was emotional because we came back to tie it in the last seconds and we were still killing a penalty when they scored right at the end of the penalty.
“It’s tough to lose early to a team and then watch them go all the way and then lose in Game 7 of the final. It shows you how close any team is. They had such a great run after that. There’s a couple of guys on our team (Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobasew) who played on that team and we still talk about it.”
Auld is now the backup goalie to Bruins starter Tim Thomas, a 34-year-old who is in his first NHL playoff series. Montreal goalies Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak are rookies, so before the series started, Auld had the most playoff experience among any of them with his four games in 2004.
But he didn’t try to share his Game 7 experience with Thomas.
“The last thing you want to do is get in his head – we (goalies) are weird enough as it is,” he said.
He learned to cherish Game 7 intensity from that game, however.
“The big difference (is) that both teams are up against the ropes,” he said. “In a Game 6, only one team is facing elimination.
“Both teams have that desperation. It’s the best thing. You fight so hard for six games and then it goes down to one game. It shows how hard fought it is, how close the league can be. All the tempers and emotions of a long series and all of a sudden its down to one game. It’s great.”
Nearly every player has either been in a Game 7 or played in a world championship or an Olympics in a win-or-go-home situation.
Canadiens defenceman Mark Streit recalled winning a Game 7 with HC Zurich against rival Lugano in the Swiss League playoffs in 2001.
“We were down 3-1 in the series and we came back,” said Streit. “The guy in the other net was (former Canadien) Cristobal Huet and we won in overtime.
“It was pretty sweet.”
Streit is captain of the Swiss national team and has been to 10 world championships and two Olympic Games.
“In the Olympics or world championships, when you play with Switzerland you have Game 7s all the way,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, there’s always huge pressure.
“At the beginning of the tournament, you might lose to a team like Germany or Belarus or whatever and you could be (dropped to) the B pool. I’ve faced those situations before.”
Streit’s teammate Mathieu Dandenault played in a dandy in 2002 while with Detroit. Colorado’s Patrick Roy shut out the Red Wings 2-0 in Game 6 in Denver, but Detroit returned home two nights later and pasted Roy and the Avalanche 7-0 in the deciding game.
“I remember it was really quiet in the room before the game, but you could just feel that guys were ready,” said Dandenault, whose team went on to win its third Stanley Cup in a six-year span. “You can’t really describe it, but everyone was ready and we came out firing.
“That was probably the best game I was ever involved in, team-wise. I mean, 7-0 against Colorado and Patrick Roy. That was a pretty special moment.”
Boston forward Glen Murray was a youngster, but he scored a goal in the first of his six career Game 7s in the second round against Buffalo in 1994.
“My first against Buffalo at the old Boston Garden was pretty memorable,” said Murray. “I was (Milan) Lucic’s age, and coming in at 19 years old and playing a Game 7 was pretty exciting.
“Each playoff game is big on its own, but everyone knows Game 7 is special. You just want to get it started, to get your first shift going.”