Frightened about Game 7? You Should Be

A win will send the Penguins to the Stanley Cup finals for a second year in a row and re-write team history.

It’s a Game 7 the Penguins clearly didn’t want to have to play.

But the bigger issue might ultimately become where the game will have to be played –– at home, where the Penguins are 0-for-7 all-time in Game 7s after having lost a Game 6.

“It’s history, not prophecy,” broadcasting legend Doc Emrick likes to remind us in times such as these.

He has a point.

Still, the Penguins’ traditional and absolute futility in such situations makes the Game 7 the Pens will have to play on Thursday night against Ottawa uncomfortable if not unnerving.

So does how well the Penguins had played in Game 6 on Tuesday night in Ottawa, how they had dominated for long stretches and enjoyed a vast superiority in shots attempted and shots on net and scoring chances and still somehow come out on the wrong end of a 2-1, series-extending decision.

In the wake of that head-scratcher, the specters of Ed Westfall (Islanders, 1975), Ken Wregget (Flyers, 1989), David Volek (Islanders, 1993), Tom Fitzgerald (Panthers, 1996), Jaroslav Halak (Canadiens, 2010), Sean Bergenheim (Lightning, 2011) and Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers, 2014) suddenly seem much more haunting.

Not that Mike Sullivan believes in ghosts.

“I think our guys have it in perspective,” Sullivan maintained the morning after the puck had for the most part refused to go into the net in Ottawa. “They understand what a seven-game series is all about, and all you can do is control what you can and do your very best to have success.”

Sullivan’s more pragmatic than he is prone to panic.

And he’s already successfully navigated a pair of Game 7s behind the Penguins’ bench, one against Tampa Bay in last season’s Eastern Conference Final (at PPG Paints Arena, no less) and one in this year’s second round at Washington.

But even Sullivan, a master motivator and magician during his tenure in Pittsburgh, has yet to pull off the lose-Game 6-and-then-win-Game-7-at-home resurrection.

This will be his first opportunity to re-write Penguins’ history in such a fashion.

To do so he’d better have one more rabbit left in his hat.

The six previous games in this series have established the Penguins as the better team (even Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher publicly confirmed that after the 7-0, no-show blowout his Senators absorbed in Game 5).

Game 6 was a particularly one-sided affair.

“I thought we played a real good game,” Sullivan had insisted in the immediate aftermath. “I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances.”

Why then, are they even playing a Game 7?

“We didn't score,” Sullivan acknowledged. “The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result.”

He, too, had a point.

But that’s four times now in six games that the Penguins have had ample opportunity to score against Craig Anderson and still haven’t managed more than one goal in a game.

And Anderson has never been confused with Lundqvist, at least not yet.

It’s been all-or-almost-nothing for the Penguins against the Senators in a series that now comes down to one final, frightening all-or-nothing proposition.

It’s as if the Hockey Gods have been trying to tell us something all along.

Perhaps the message has been this:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

That apparently applies to history, prophecy and the Eastern Conference Final.
 

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section