It had been awhile since I could remember a Game 7 of such magnitude. A game 7 that meant so much not only to its fans, but to an entire city, maybe even an entire country of hockey fans since Vancouver was the only Canadian team remaining in this year’s NHL Playoffs. It was Game 7 of the first round of the 2011 NHL Playoffs, which pitted the Chicago Blackhawks against the Vancouver Canucks. Why was the drama so high for a Game 7 in only the first round of the playoffs? Why was this Game 7 so important? I will explain:
1. Chicago Blackhawks, last year’s Stanley Cup Champions defeated and beat up Vancouver the past two years to advance in the playoffs.
2. This season, Vancouver had the best season its 40 year history. The Canucks were the best team in the NHL during the regular season. They won the President’s Trophy for earning the most points during the regular season. Vancouver led the league in many different categories and many people have picked them to win this year’s Stanley Cup.
3. Chicago had to wait until the last day of the regular season to get into the playoffs and they didn’t even do so on their own accord. Another team (The Dallas Stars) had to lose on the last day of the regular season for Chicago to make it to the playoffs. So, you had the best team in the NHL versus a team that limped into in the playoffs.
4. Vancouver took a commanding 3 games to 0 lead against Chicago to begin the playoff series and it appeared that Vancouver was going to sweep Chicago.
Then, like a villain trying to kill James Bond, the Blackhawks refused to be eliminated. The Blackhawks won Game 4 in a 7-2 rout, then Game 5, 5-0, then Game 6, 4-3. The Blackhawks all of sudden had the momentum, swagger, and the attitude of a defending Stanley Cup Champion. Which set up, Game 7.
On the eve of Game 7, I received an e-mail from my friend Joel who lives in Vancouver. Joel is one of the most positive upbeat persons I have ever met, but his e-mail sounded desperate and on the verge of panic. In his e-mail, Joel described how much people in Vancouver hated the Blackhawks, how many people prior to Game 7 in Vancouver were on edge, and how the city would go into a funk if the Canucks lost Game 7. Joel asked me to send positive vibes the Canucks way, to cheer for the Canucks, and in turn he would cheer for the Flyers (I’m a Philadelphia Flyers fan). That act alone illustrated to me how desperate Joel was. Because very rarely will a person who is not a Philly sports fan cheer for a Philly based team. Trust me, it just doesn’t happen. So, for Joel to offer up that he would cheer for the Flyers if I cheered for the Canucks, I knew Joel was on edge.
Game 7 was on! And, as my custom this playoff season, I woke up sometime between 4 and 5 am to watch the game (Two months of this and I will really become sleep deprived). The game was exciting, tense, nerve wracking and I knew that it would not be over prior to me leaving for work, so I had the bright idea to record the game on the DVR. First time I had DVR’d a game this playoff season, but I had a feeling that this game was going to be a good one!
So, like I used to do back in the day of the VCR, I purposely kept myself in the dark all day trying not to find out the outcome of the game. Y’know how hard this is these days to keep yourself in the dark about a score (I try often, but it's tough), an outcome; be it a sporting event or a tv show finale? But I did. I kept conversations short, I only checked my work e-mail, I positioned myself away from tv screens broadcasting the news so I could watch Game 7 later that evening and not know the outcome. As my sister Reneta likes to say, “Ryan, in this age of information, you are the only person I know who tries to keep himself in the dark.”
It was after 9 P.M. when I was finally able to sit down and watch the game and I felt like a kid; make that an adult, who finally got to take the wrapper off of his favorite candy bar after resisting all day. It’s funny because of the two teams that played, neither is my favorite, but I couldn’t wait to see how the next couple of hours would unfold.
Period 1: Vancouver came out fast and furious and scored early to take a 1-0 lead and the crowd was going nuts!
Period 2: Chicago regained their composure and one could see the momentum shift a bit. The period ended Vancouver still up 1-0.
Period 3: Vancouver was leading with about a minute left in the game and the Chicago Blackhawks led by their great, young captain Jonathan Toews scored an incredible shorthanded (Chicago was down a player due to a penalty) goal while on his stomach to tie the game at 1-1 and subsequently send Game 7 into overtime. When Toews scored I was as stunned as the crowd at the GM Place in Vancouver. I couldn’t believe it!? Vancouver was pretty much in control the entire game and they were a little more than a minute away from clinching the game, the series, and moving onto Round 2.
In OT, I watched the much maligned and scrutinized Canucks goalie, Roberto Luongo make save after save to keep his team in the series. Then, four minutes into OT a Canucks player, Alex Burrows pounced on a loose puck and shot the puck in the top half of the net, GOAL!!!!!!!! The GM Place erupted as did I and the game was over. I once read a quote where the writer wrote, “One knows a book is good when after finishing it the reader is breathless.” And this is how I felt about this game after Alex Burrows’ game winning goal. All I could say was, “Wow! That was a great game!”