DENVER – Patrick Roy was quite calm and even cracked a few jokes as his team went through a light workout. No signs of stress at all.
Of course, the first-year Colorado Avalanche coach has been in a few pressure-packed Game 7 situations as a Hall of Fame goaltender—13 to be exact.
His players? Not as much experience. A dozen had never been to the post-season before this year.
And yet Roy’s hardly fretting over his team’s emotional state heading into a decisive final game Wednesday night against the Minnesota Wild, with the winner moving on to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
On the contrary, Roy’s reminding his youthful team of one simple thing: Enjoy the moment.
“How good is this?” Roy said. “They’re excited about it and they should be. … We’re playing Game 7 in our building, in front of our fans.”
In this series, home ice is a pretty big deal. All six games in this tightly contested matchup have been decided during the waning moments, with the home team capturing each one.
Wild coach Mike Yeo has a stirring pregame speech all prepared for just the occasion, a few well-chosen words to put into his players’ ears before they hit the ice and hear the clamour of the crowd.
Care to share the highlights?
“Then it wouldn’t be very inspirational,” Yeo joked.
Minnesota will try to neutralize the noise with another sizzling start. The Wild have scored the first goal in four of the games.
“(Game 7s) are the best and also the worst,” Yeo said. “You have so much on the line—the players laying it all out there, the passion and the energy of the building and the fans. There’s just so much at stake.”
Avs forward Maxime Talbot stressed “having fun” to rookie Nathan MacKinnon, who’s tied with Zach Parise for most points (10) in the NHL playoffs so far. Talbot knows the butterflies will be present for players such as MacKinnon—and it’s something to embrace.
“That’s why we play the game,” said Talbot, who scored twice in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final to lift Pittsburgh to a 2-1 win over Detroit.
“That’s the coolest thing about hockey. As much experience as you have, you have to take these butterflies and turn them into excitement and energy, and that’s definitely the feeling I have right now.”
Roy believes that Game 7 will hinge on, what else, the goalies.
Semyon Varlamov won a team-record 41 games in the regular season, breaking the mark held by Roy. The goalie nicknamed “Varly” has faced a barrage of shots in this series, coming up big in several games.
“Varly’s always the brick out there,” Talbot said. “We know he’s going to make the big saves.”
The same can be said of Darcy Kuemper, who has a 1.53 goals- against average since stepping in for Ilya Bryzgalov in Game 2. Although Kuemper can’t ever remember playing in a Game 7, he said that Monday’s game—a 5-2 win in which the Wild sealed it and extended the series by scoring two empty-net goals—was good practice.
“Now, both teams are in the situation,” Kuemper said. “So they’re going to be a little bit more desperate than they were last game. We’ve been through it before, so we should be pretty calm and confident with it.”
The intensity level is something the Wild are embracing. They know it’s going to be a hostile environment, but it’s not as if the Wild have been blown out inside the Pepsi Center.
No, the Avalanche have needed to rely on some late magic, pulling Varlamov for an extra skater in Games 1 and 5, get big late goals and to send it into OT, where they found a way to win.
“We feel good about the way we’ve been playing,” Parise said. “Hopefully, we can get a win here.”
Colorado received a boost last game with the return of Matt Duchene from a knee injury. The team’s leading scorer in the regular season is still rounding into shape, but with every shift he’s getting back his quickness.
“This is just another game,” Duchene said. “That’s how you have to treat Game 7s.”
The previous time the Avs were in a Game 7 was 2003, when they were eliminated by the Wild in Roy’s last game.
“That’s not going to have a big effect on our team,” Roy said, smiling. “Because there are not that many players from then that are still with us.”