It’s a truly terrifying prospect, a game 7. All the chips on the line, your entire season, all the anxiety, the angst, the anger, the elation, the struggles, the victories – all of it, riding on 60 minutes (and maybe overtime[s]).
As a fan, it’s somehow more terrifying. You have no control. You have no say in what happens. You just have faith that the players you’ve rooted for all season will live up to your faith, that they will play up to their potential, and deliver.
As a fan of a tortured fan base, like, say, the Vancouver Canucks, game 7 is heart-stopping, anxiety-filled, gut-wrenching experience. And if those said Canucks had a 3-0 lead in the series and are now playing a game 7, just multiply all those emotions.
How did we get here? The “analysts” have all had their say – bagging on Luongo, just simply calling it (rightly so) a no-show for games 4 and 5 – but I think you have to look back before the playoffs started, back to when Manny Malhotra got hit in the eye with a puck.
Malhotra is a pretty unique player. He consistently has one of the top 2 or 3 face-off percentages in the league annually, he’s a big player with good defensive instincts, he’s not embarassingly slow, and he chips in on the offensive side more often than he should. In effect, he’s the perfect 3rd line center. Losing Malhotra not only dismantles a good defensive third line that can play against other teams’ top lines, but screws with your penalty kill and your powerplay – a guy like Kesler, who plays in all facets of the game, tires himself out playing on the kill so that he’s not as effective on the PP. Look at the face off statistics in this series and tell me that we don’t miss Malhotra. Winning or losing a key faceoff is the difference between hemming the other team into their zone and getting scoring chances and having to back-check and trying to regain the zone. It’s the difference between breaking out and taking another face off (hopefully not at center ice). Puck possession is so important to our game, and especially in the playoffs, puck possession is hard to come by. It’s small things like face offs that win playoff games.
And yet, for the first three games, we took the game to the Hawks. We skated hard, played with great intensity and emotion, moved the puck well, and played pretty good defence. I don’t know why that didn’t carry over from game 3 to game 4, and why we suddenly rediscovered it in game 6, but we need to come out in game 7 and establish that game again. It is so important for us to come out strong for the first 7-10 minutes of the game. If the Hawks score early, it will be the end of our season. Rogers arena will deflate quickly, and the ‘Nuck s will be squeezing their sticks. It’ll be a crapshoot from that point on.
We need to get shots to Crawford, and we need to get more offensive zone time – something that’s sorely been lacking for the last few games. Our defence has to help Luongo out – who played fantastically in the early part of this series and in spurts in the rest, but has given up some soft goals at bad times too – by clearing rebounds, clearing the front, stepping up at the blueline to make it hard to gain our zone, and by making smart decisions with the puck. Our forwards just need to skate – move their feet, work the puck to the net, get shots, and back check like crazy. I still think that we’re a stronger team once we’re established in the offensive zone, but we have to take away their potency on the rush. If we do those things, I think we have a great chance to win this game.
But time will tell. 60 minutes. That’s all it is. Not NHL history, not 3 years worth of revenge. Just 60 minutes.
I hope I make it through the game without having some sort of cardiac complication.