It’s well documented that tonight is the first Game 7 in the 18-year history of the Nashville Predators franchise but just how special is it to be involved in a game like this?
Of the 25 players on the roster, only six have ever participated in a Game 7 at the NHL level. Mike Fisher (2002, 2003, 2004 with Ottawa), Paul Gaustad (2006, 2011 with Buffalo), Barret Jackman (2003 with St. Louis), James Neal (2011, 2014 with Pittsburgh), Eric Nystrom (2008 with Calgary) and Mike Ribeiro (2004 with Montreal, 2007 with Dallas, 2013 with Washington) have seen the festivities of a full playoff series.
Knowing only Ribeiro has come away victorious (2004), Preds fans don’t find much encouragement in those numbers. But perhaps they should focus their attention away from the ice and more behind the bench.
Anaheim’s Head Coach Bruce Boudreau is no stranger to going the distance. Unfortunately for Ducks fans, he’s also no stranger to losing, going just 1-6 all-time. On the other hand, Nashville’s bench boss, Peter Laviolette, is 4-1.
“Game 7’s are awesome,” Laviolette said. “I don’t know if there’s anything better than the Stanley Cup [Playoffs] in a Game 7 when everything means something.”
It’s times like these when experience comes in handy. Rookies lean on veterans who have been there before simply to get an idea what to expect.
“Tony asked me last night what a Game 7 is like,” Jackman said about his defense partner Anthony Bitetto. “I just told him ‘It’s a lot of fun. Each shift is going to be do-or-die. Play as hard as you can and don’t have any regrets when you’re done.’”
No regrets. That’s the key. It’s a Game 7 which means the winner advances to play the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Semifinals while the loser’s season comes to a close. But most would agree that the pressure is actually on the Ducks. Anaheim has played in Game 7’s each of the last three years and lost all three times. Making things worse, they were up 3-2 in each of those series’ and hosted the deciding game in each.
Sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it?
“We expect to win too but they have a ton of pressure,” Jackman said. “They’ve been in this situation a few times and have come out on the wrong end.”
“I think there’s pressure [for them],” Laviolette said. “Things linger around from years past, a little bit, in the back of your head.”
His counterpart conveniently disagrees.
“It’s a new team, it’s a new time, every year is different,” Boudreau said, chuckling at the question. “Every day is different and we’re looking forward to the game.”
“I don’t even want to hear about that,” Ducks winger David Perron told Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times. “It’s another year.”
Unlike Perron, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf donned Ducks sweaters for all three of those collapses and, when asked about them after Game 6 in Nashville, both went on the defensive.
“It’s Game 7 and everybody knows that,” Getzlaf said. “I’m not going to go out and make some motivational speech. I’ve got to go out and do what I need to do and play hard.”
“You have to [ignore it],” Perry said of the recent history. “That’s why we play all year. You want to play for that home ice and that’s what we did. We’ve been solid at home but it’s a Game 7. Anything can happen. You just go out and play hockey.”
Even without the last three years coming into play, the pressure has been put on Anaheim by way of the experts and insiders. Prior to the playoffs, an overwhelming majority of pundits chose the Ducks to knock off the Preds.
“I think maybe three out of 70 people picked us to come out of the first round so there’s those expectations,” Laviolette said. “I don’t know if it matters once you get on the ice. The team that executes the best, the team that plays with the most energy and the team that plays with the most discipline, that’s the team that’s going to win the hockey game.”
“I think the pressure’s been on them the whole series,” Neal said. “Everyone picked them to win. But we know what kind of team we have here in Nashville and we did everything all year to push ourselves to this point. So why not win one more game?”
One more game to decide the fate of two teams. How special is that?