While getting in the Game 7 mood over the last two nights, I looked up the playoff history of the Pittsburgh Penguins and noted eleven Game 7s all-time. Pittsburgh has a 7-4 record in those games but just 2-4 at Mellon Arena where they will host the Canadiens tonight. Surprisingly, I can vividly recall the details of all of them except one. The 1975 Penguins earned the ignominy of becoming only the second team in NHL history to blow a 3 games to zero lead in a best-of-seven playoff series when the New York Islanders came all the way back to crush the Steel City, winning 1-0 in Game 7 at Pittsburgh. Thankfully, I was not born yet, so I do not have any first-hand recollection of that game nor any related permanent scars.
However, the specific details of the other ten Game 7s have all been unavoidably etched into memory inherently because they were simply, Game 7. As I tried to explain to a bewildered co-worker this morning, I can even remember to some detail, whole conversations I had as well as what I was eating or wearing on the day of past Game 7s. “Whatever you say to me today, I will remember forever because it’s a Game 7 day,” I warned her as she cackled bemusedly. Some Game 7s have been more memorable than others for winning reasons or season-ending losing reasons. Some can simply be summed up by mentioning one player’s name. For example, the good: Max Talbot, Darius Kasparaitis, Martin Straka … and the bad: David Volek, Tom Fitzgerald.
Without further ado, Penguins’ Game 7 memories: game details and this writer’s recollection as to his whereabouts during the game.
1989: April 29 – Philadelphia 4 @ Pittsburgh 1. The Pens were looking to advance to the third round for the first time in franchise history. It was not to be. Wregget stoned the Penguins that night making 39 saves only allowing a Mario Lemieux goal. Lemieux scored 12 goals in 11 games in his first career playoff appearance. PenguinsMarch was … in fifth grade, sleeping over at a friend/fellow Penguin fan’s house on a Saturday night for the express purpose of watching the game. I can still see us staring painfully and vacantly at the television for what seemed like hours, after the game ended.
1993: May 14 – New York Islanders 4 @ Pittsburgh 3 (OT). David @$#@! Volek. No Pens’ fan alive and sentient for the bittersweet 1992-93 season will hear that name and not instinctively wince. After a record-breaking and inspiring regular season that saw the two-time champion Pens win the President’s Trophy, win a league-record 17 straight games and Lemieux win the scoring title despite taking time off to battle Hodgkin’s Disease, Pittsburgh was ominously pushed to Game 7 in the second round by the upstart Isles. Mid-way through the game, Pens’ forward Kevin Stevens suffered a horrific facial injury and left the game. Then in overtime, New York’s Volek scored his second goal of the game, eliminating and stunning the Penguins. PenguinsMarch was … in ninth grade, bitterly sitting through a performance of my brother’s junior year musical, “The Pirates of Penzance” at his high school. Yes, a high school musical. On a Friday night. On the night of the most important game of the year. For years, I refused to forgive my family for exiling me away from watching that game. At least it spared me another episode of staring painfully and vacantly at the television.
1996: June 1 – Florida 3 @ Pittsburgh 1. Pittsburgh was on a collision course to meet Colorado in what promised to be a classic Cup Final. All that stood in the way was the pesky Florida Panthers. In the last Game 7 in Mellon Arena until tonight, Florida continued with neutral zone trapping and clutch ‘n’ grab hockey and won the Eastern Conference title. The value of Ron Francis was never more apparent than that night. He missed the entire series with a broken foot sustained while blocking a shot in the previous round. PenguinsMarch was … in twelfth grade, at a barbeque playing pool, when word reached me that the Pens were down 1-0. I immediately left and drove home only to arrive just as Johan Garpenlov stuck a dagger through my chest. A wrist shot off an odd-man rush that Pens’ goalie Tom Barrasso juggled then accidentally batted into his own net.
1999: May 4 – Pittsburgh 4 @ New Jersey 2. Martin Straka sliding on his back all the way to the Pens’ bench in celebration. Who can forget it? Straka’s insurance goal late in the game finished a stunning and rare #8 over #1 upset as Pittsburgh, despite firing just 13 pucks at Martin Brodeur, slipped four by him that night. Game 7 would not have been possible were it not for the clutch brilliance of Jaromir Jagr in Game 6 two nights earlier. Double-J scored the game-tying goal and the overtime winner. It was believed that had Jagr not extended the series and had the Pens not reached the second round, the struggling franchise may not have made payroll that month. PenguinsMarch was … finishing a sophomore year plant genetics term paper during Game 7. When I returned to the college dorm and an empty common room, I watched the highlights, then overcome with excitement, quietly imitated Straka’s celebration on the common room rug.
2001: May 10 – Pittsburgh 3 @ Buffalo 2 (OT). Darius Kasparaitis. Is there seriously any other memory a Penguins’ fan has of the Lithuanian-born defenceman? The final three games of this forgotten but enthralling series all ended 3-2 in overtime – Game 5 in favour of Buffalo and the final two in favour of Pittsburgh. Kasparaitis, more known for his fists than stickhandling, skated over the blue line and put a harmless wrist shot on goal. Nothing but net. This was Dominik Hasek’s last game as a Sabre. PenguinsMarch was … back home from college for the summer. The entire house was asleep except for me. When Kaspar scored, I leaped into the air ready to scream indefinitely. Instead, remembering what hour it was, I turned and screamed into the couch cushions, “WE’RE GOING TO THE CONFERENCE FINALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
2009: May 13 – Pittsburgh 6 @ Washington 2. Ovechkin skates in alone and shoots … right into Fleury’s glove in the first period. As it turns out, the Caps were effectively done right there. Sidney Crosby scored twice, once on his own breakaway and the first Crosby-Ovechkin playoff showdown ended in anti-climactic fashion. This was the only Game 7 that the Penguins won after losing Game 6. PenguinsMarch was … standing, running, batting, fielding and sitting in the rain on a baseball diamond for the first game of the slo-pitch season during Game 7. At my house, I was taping the game on satellite radio and planned to rush home and listen to the entire play-by-play to retain the excitement value before inevitably someone would tell me the result. That dream was dashed when the umpire looked up during our softball game and spontaneously and loudly yelled out, “3-0 Penguins, for anyone that cares.”
2009: June 12 – Pittsburgh 2 @ Detroit 1. Max Talbot once. Max Talbot twice. I have probably already watched the highlights of this game literally, a hundred times – and it will never get old. Memories abound: After Talbot’s first goal off a brutal giveaway by Detroit’s Brad Stuart, the sight of Talbot, pumping his fist slowly, looking right at Fleury, as if to say, “We can do this … now hold up the lead.“ Crosby getting crunched along the boards by Johan Franzen in the second period, injuring his knee and leaving the game. Talbot’s second goal celebration, sinking to his knees and looking upwards. Then of course, the frantic final 6.5 seconds: Fleury’s sideways Superman dive and Craig Adams falling on the rebound as if it were a live grenade. PenguinsMarch was … at a friend’s house for weekly Church fellowship. When the clock reached triple-zeroes, I sunk to my knees Talbot-style and stared vacantly at the screen – momentarily disbelieving what I was seeing: did the Pens just win the Cup? Yes they did. In Game 7. A game for the ages.
About the Author: Adrian Fung (@PenguinsMarch) contributes game reports, opinions, analysis and features, mostly about the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has covered the World Hockey Summit, Kraft Hockeyville, World Junior Championship exhibition games, CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, MasterCard Memorial Cup and NHL Rookie Tournament for Hockey Independent. twitter.com/PenguinsMarch